cover image The Investigation

The Investigation

Philippe Claudel, trans. from the French by John Cullen. Doubleday/Talese, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-385-53534-2

As this overly philosophical novel begins, the Investigator arrives in a strange, unnamed city with a mandate to look into “a most unusually high” suicide rate at the Enterprise, an organization worthy of both the adjectives Orwellian and Kafkaesque. There, he encounters the Waiter, the Policeman, the Night Clerk, and so on, and is met at every turn with petty bureaucracy, mindless conformity, and a surreal indifference to his needs. Frustrations mount until the Investigator cracks and, in an orgy of violence, destroys his already awful hotel room; though this leaves him feeling “perfectly happy,” what follows is a truly hellish existence. Claudel’s slim parable about the plight of contemporary existence cannot be considered an heir to classics like 1984 or The Metamorphosis. Though written in 2010, the Investigator’s world is more reminiscent of Eastern Europe before the fall of communism than of 21st-century life. There’s no subtlety or ambiguity; nothing is left to the imagination, from the lives of the characters to the ideas Claudel intends to illuminate. Few readers will be able to draw any parallels between the author’s vision and contemporary society. (July 10)