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This review is from: The Investigation (Kindle Edition)
I should preface this by saying that I'm a huge Claudel fan. His 'Brodeck's Report is a masterpiece and 'Monsieur Linh and His Child' displays breathtaking narrative power. It's because Claudel has produced such gems that I was eager to devour The Investigation. But I was underwhelmed.
The fable-like story revolves around an un-named Investigator who is dispatched to a foreign city to investigate a spate of suicides. He arrives by train and is at once catapulted into a nightmarish urban environment which tortures the protagonist at every step. Line by line, the writer strips his hero of all the props of humanity. He is rebuffed and humiliated by every thing and person he comes into contact with, and his faculties of logic and social conditioning are rendered useless by an indifferent, hostile universe. Eventually The Investigator's mind fractures as his raison d'Ítre vanishes like a puff of cigarette smoke.
Sounds bleak? It is. Unremittingly. The small amount of black humour that glitters in certain sentences soon evaporates as one becomes worn down, like the Investigator, by a world lacking in humanity. Human relationships, Claudel clearly believes, are determined by environment, and the city the Investigator is cast adrift in, is one of rules, regulations, byzantine bureaucracy, machines and pointless processes. In such a machine human beings are ground up mercilessly and spat out like chaff.
I have two major beefs with all this. One: Kafka did it all a 100 years ago. And better. Whilst The Investigation says important things about he modern world, urban environments, alienation and humanity, it does nothing - technically speaking - that 'The Trail' or 'The Castle' don't achieve with subtler satire. Two: The Existentialist Novel, the likes of which Kafka, Satre and Camus filed to a sharp philosophical point in the first half of the twentieth century, were products of a particular historical moment. The Investigation, therefore, feels like that weird anomaly - a modernist novel in a post-modern age. Why does a novel published in 2012 feel like Fritz Lang's metropolis or have a whiff of Bulgakov's Moscow?
It strikes me that Claudel the novelist admirably strains to write stories Claudel the film-maker could not adapt. Great! Too often modern fiction is influenced by cinematic narrative devices. By this criterion, however, Tarkovsky's 'Stalker' maps very similar territory to Claudel's novel. And arguably to greater effect.
In short, Claudel's latest feels far less original, to me, than his other allegorical novels. To its credit: it feels like a Kafka novel. To is detriment: it feels like a Kafka novel. If you want a more shockingly contemporary dispatch from the existential front line, you'd do better to look towards Claudel's fellow countryman, Michel Houellebecq.