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The Investigation by Philippe Claudel

January 27, 2013

The Investigator is despatched to a provincial town to investigate a disturbing spate of suicides amongst the employees of The Firm. But from the moment he steps off the train, he finds that everything is against him, from the hostile weather to the town’s bewildering inhabitants. Cold, hungry and humiliated, always one step behind, he finds himself in a recurring nightmare that waking cannot break. And yet his resolve never falters: he remains determined to find the only man he can hold to account – The Firm’s legendary but elusive founder.

I became a big fan of French writer Philippe Claudel back in 2010 after reading the wonderful Monsieur Linh and His Child. The first thing that struck me about his latest novel, The Investigation, was how incredibly different it sounded to his previous work, but also how deliciously intriguing it appeared to be, and I can now safely say that my first thoughts definitely did not deceive…

This is a rather difficult novel to review in some aspects, because despite how inconceivably brilliant it was, I still can’t really tell you what the hell actually happened. All we know is that a man who calls himself the investigator turns up to an unnamed town to investigate a number of suicides that occur amongst the employees of a place known as The Firm. At first he has a slightly hard time even getting to The Firm as everything you could possibly imagine getting in his way, did, and I mean from the plausible to the downright ridiculous. In fact, some of it is a little laugh-out-loud funny. But it never feels so ridiculous that you feel like you should stop reading. In fact, Claudel’s masterful writing pulls you in and leaves you dangling on a thread, tempting you with the answer to what’s really going on here, and you’re left turning page after page; desperate to get there. I’m not going to tell you how it all comes to an end, because frankly the journey there is what makes this novel so unique in a way I’ve never encountered before. Everything the investigator encounters may seem ridiculous at first, but once you delve deeper, you soon realise that everything you thought about this book may be wrong. Who is the investigator? Who is The Firm? It’s not long before the investigator begins to doubt his whole existence, and you’re right there with him experiencing it in the most unsettling fashion.

The Investigation is a dark, haunted, twisted novel that will intrigue you perhaps more than any other novel you read this year. It will make you think about the world and everyone around you in a whole new light, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be left gasping after the last page just trying to figure out what it is you’ve just read. Of course, if you’re a lot smarter I’m sure you’ll have some intelligent well-thought-out answer ready to hand. I would love to see this as a film one day, one of those low-budget indie films that can really examine the depths of this deceptively simple story. If you love a book that makes you feel unsettled to your very core and leaves you with more questions than answers then this is definitely a book for you, and one I’d highly recommend.

The Investigation is out now, published by MacLehose Press, an imprint of Quercus. A big thank you goes to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.

Rating stars4

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