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Grey Souls [Paperback]

Philippe Claudel
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 April 2006

This is ostensibly a detective story, about a crime that is committed in 1917, and solved 20 years later. The location is a small town in Northern France. The war is still being fought in the trenches, within sight and sound of the town, but the men of the town have been spared the slaughter because they are needed in the local factory. One freezing cold morning in the dead of winter, a beautiful ten year old girl, one of three daughters of the local innkeeper, is found strangled and dumped in the canal. Suspicion falls on two deserters who are picked up near the town. Their interrogation and sentencing is brutal and swift.

Twenty years later, the narrator, a local policeman, puts together what actually happened. On the night the deserters were arrested and interrogated, he was sitting by the bedside of his dying wife. He believes that justice was not done and wants to set the record straight. But the death of the child was not the only crime committed in the town during those weeks.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New Ed edition (6 April 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753820617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753820612
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 12.8 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 328,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Claudel's exquisite, delicate writing is what makes this narrative a small masterpiece, to be read word for word, savouring the experience. (GOOD BOOK GUIDE (May 2006) )

Characters and settings are described with a sharp realism reminiscent of Simenon - or indeed Zola. Those looking for allegories about a society choosing not to acknowledge the horror at its centre will certainly find them; others will enjoy this elegantly constructed work for the deftness of its characterisation, its description of the rural landscape, and the unmistakable flavour that it conveys of French life. (Christina Koning THE TIMES (15/4/06) )

An atmospheric whodunit wreathed in winter mists and mystery, but given legs by a sturdy cast of rustic functionaries. (INDEPENDENT (5/5/06) )

A hypnotic fairy tale of a detective story (DAILY EXPRESS (21/4/06) )

Book Description

A literary detective story about the murder of a young girl in a small town in Northern France in 1917

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grey Souls. Philippe Claudel 9 Jun 2010
The story revolves around the murder of a local young girl in a small French village, near the front line, during the First World War. The story is told in retrospect by the original investigator of the murder case. As the events of the past are re-told he attempts to reconcile his own conduct during the investigation of the case and the affect the verdict had on his own life. There are plenty of twists throughout the book as the investigator recollects his life throughout this turbulent period and also of those around him. There are some poignant episodes within the story and the character portrayal is extremely good. I really enjoyed Grey Souls and found it to be a thought provoking book. I would willingly recommend it.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars little gem 24 July 2005
A well-polished little diamond of a novel. Set in a small French town during World War 1 a detective looks back on his part in the investigation of the murder of an angelic young girl. Especially considering this is translated from the original French - it is incredibly well-written. There doesn't seem to be a wasted word and the overall effect is a haunting melancholy that stays with you well after you've finished reading.
Basically, a stunning piece of writing that is my favourite read of recent years. Tres, tres Bon!!
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A haunting story brilliantly told.... 3 Jan 2006
By A Customer
I've had a proof of this book sitting on my bookshelf for months. Yesterday, suffering literary indigestion from too many huge, overlong, inflated novels I picked it up. The cover doesn't exactly do much to encourage this, but the first paragraph is enough to draw you in...and I read it in two sittings, on one day. Amazing stuff...economical, moving, full of wonderful twists and surprises, and written in such a way that the whole life and society of this place is revealed. The First World War is there, but not as you've ever read about it before. The character of our narrator and the Procureur are both extraordinary, but every tiny part is fleshed out. Read this book. It will stay with you for ever. I can't believe there isn't some French director making a movie of it as I write...it'll be good, but nothing like the novel.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Ridiculous farrago 1 Mar 2014
By Joolz
When I started to read this novel, I thought it must be a sort of black comedy, perhaps rather in the style of Flann O'Brien, so ridiculous was the bumping off of every character shortly after they were introduced. Indeed the repeated litany of the police narrator "And that was the last time I saw her. Alive", began to make me giggle. I realised as I proceeded however that, incredible as it may seem, the author actually expected us to take this ridiculous farrago of "let's see how horrible I can make everyone's death" seriously. He is a good writer, as exemplified for example by his "Cafe Escelsior", but this makes this exercise in bad taste even more inexcusable. It is just an utter waste of time....unless, of course, it is a joke.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Nihilististic 9 Aug 2011
By Manx 49
From the beginning to the end the gloom remains unrelieved. The narrative voice is world-sick and its owner is hanging by a thread over the abyss.Set against the genocide of The Great War a murder story unfolds;an innocent is slaughtered as so many, albeit older, innocents are. Snobbery, cruelty and brutality prevent the truth unfolding; despair and dissolution compete.Life is portrayed as a dark journey to nowhere in particular.

The style is sparse and striking in the way that Hemingway's is; the author has distilled language to produce a memorable text.It makes Jude The Obscure read like a laugh-out-loud romp.

It's a fine book but life-enhancing it isn't.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A haunting and beautiful book 30 May 2011
A young girl is found murdered close to a northern French village during the First World War. The detective assigned to the case looks back, years later at the investigation and his own life.

Though the framework is that of a detective story with a murder, suspects and a detective it is really much more. The case is told in retrospect by the detective questioning his conducts and examining how the investigation meshed with his personal concerns. It is a tragic story from many points of view, not only the sad death of the victim but other equally poignant losses. The war is there as a distant rumble, ever present and influencing matters but never taking centre stage.

The translation reads very fluently and seems to capture the essence of the story.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life (and Death) is Suffering 18 May 2009
I've always found the idea of crime in the midst of a war rather interesting, and so this French novel about a murder during World War I caught my eye. I suppose I expected some kind of literary thriller, and while there is indeed a strong murder mystery plot, the book is really an extended meditation on death.

Death is everywhere in this book, as the narrator reflects on the horrific murder of a young girl in the small village he lived in twenty years earlier, in 1917. He was a policeman, but far from being deeply involved in the investigation, was instead relegated to the sidelines by the imperious judge who takes over the case. This murder was soon followed by the apparent suicide of a newly arrived young woman who had taken the schoolteacher's post. In the wake of this comes a third tragic death -- one which forever changes the policeman. Even as the first World War grinds up men by the thousands just over the hill from the town and pollutes its streets with mangled wounded, it's this trio of dead females that haunts the policeman. (Nonetheless, there are plenty of echoes of the war in how the judge and his strange sidekick "investigate" the murder, and it's hard not to think of Renoir's great film, Grand Illusion, while reading.)

The book slowly (probably too slowly for some) and very lyrically meanders back and forth over the last twenty years, as the policeman recounts his attempt to unravel the mystery of the little girl's murder while also slowly revealing the secrets of the other two women's deaths. During the telling, the deaths of numerous supporting characters over the intervening two decades are also carefully noted. (I think there are something like 15-20 deaths mentioned in the story.) All of which makes for some beautifully written, but melancholy reading.
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