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Grijze zielen by Philippe Claudel
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Grijze zielen (original 2003; edition 2003)

by Philippe Claudel

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8163511,155 (3.75)76
Member:Seljordroos
Title:Grijze zielen
Authors:Philippe Claudel
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Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:2013

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Grey Souls by Philippe Claudel (2003)

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» See also 76 mentions

English (14)  Dutch (8)  French (4)  Italian (4)  Spanish (3)  Finnish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (35)
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
This book was recommended to me by author Elizabeth Speller during a Twitter conversation about WW1 books. I have to confess I had previously not heard of either the novel or the author. By a Slow River – original title Les àmes grises – translated from French by Hoyt Rogers was the winner of the Prix Renaudot and a bestseller in France. It is the compelling and atmospheric story of three mysterious deaths in an isolated French village during World War one.
The story is narrated by a policeman who looks back on what is known locally as The Case from a distance of twenty years, when he returns to wind up his father’s affairs after many years absence. In December 1917 with the sound of the artillery bombardment rumbling not too far away, death of a different kind comes to this small village. Belle the ten-year old daughter of the Rѐbillon café owner Bourrache; known to all as Morning Glory is found strangled. This shocking death is the second to bring tragedy to a small town where many men are in reserved occupations, a place oddly removed from the war. A couple of years earlier, a replacement schoolmistress whose beauty, cheerful demeanour and gracefulness had turned the heads of many of the local men, and stolen a few hearts, committed suicide. As The Case gets underway, with a desperate search through that freezing December for a murderer, a young woman dies in childbirth while her husband is out searching for a killer.
“When we ran into Pierre-Ange Destinat on the street, the rest of us called him Mr.Prosecutor. Men raised their caps to him, and women of the humbler sort curtsied. Fine ladies of his own social class would incline their heads ever so slightly, like little birds when they drank from gutters. Whatever the greeter or greeting, it seemed no matter. He didn’t answer – or did it so faintly you would’ve needed four well-polished opera glasses to see his lips move. But it wasn’t disdain, as most believed; I think it was simply detachment.”
Prosecutor Pierre-Ange Destinat living alone in his Chateau with his two servants Barbe and Solemn still grieves for his long dead wife. Destinat who has a regular table reserved for him and dines occasionally at Rebillon has earned the enmity of the sinister Judge Mierck; a dark presence in the town, and another regular at Rebillon. It was in a small house in the grounds of the Prosecutor’s chateau that the schoolmistress had lived, and it is just outside the walls that Morning Glory is found dead. Mierck an unpleasant, malevolent character, chillingly drawn by Claudel, is quickly called to the gruesome scene outside the chateau, and directs the start of the investigation.
“Before that moment we had all accepted Judge Mierck for what he was. He had his place and he held it, not liked much, but respected. But on that first Monday of December, by the mortal remains of this little girl, his words, and even more how matter-of-factly he said them, almost cheerfully, with a gleam in his eyes at having a murder case at last, a real one, for it was murder, no doubt about it! – in this time of war, when all the killers had forsaken civil life so they could ply their aggression more violently in uniform – after that day, people in our region never thought of him without disgust.”
Judge Mierck and his friend a rather mysterious Colonel tie up The Case quickly– declaring it closed, but the memory of these events will stay in the minds of many.
Twenty years later the Policeman is still struggling to make sense of the tragedies, continually haunted as he is, by the ghosts of the past. Now temporarily back in the village he uses the small amount of information he has to wheedle out the secrets of the village. Gradually as the story of what happened during those years of the war is revealed, the story of an entire town is brought to light.
By a Slow River – (which I think is the US title, the UK title is Grey Souls) is a sadly, beautiful novel, enormously evocative with a strong sense of place. Within the non-linear structure of this novel, Dadais – Claudel’s policeman narrator in recalling the most terrible events of his life, creates a very intimate relationship with the reader. I don’t read many modern crime novels, - although this is very much a literary crime novel, with character and place really at the centre – but I am very glad I read this one. Claudel is an author I will have to investigate further. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Jul 2, 2014 |
Excellent, in many ways better than Brodeck, this earlier novel is set during World War I and follows a similar non-linear tale of a village filled with archetypes and surprises. It centers around "The Case" -- the murder of a young girl -- which is just one of many terrible events in this town near the front lines of World War I. Not a mystery novel, but there is some suspense and surprise as the story unfolds. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
transferring information from 2006 spreadsheet
  sally906 | Apr 3, 2013 |
A young girl is murdered by the banks of a river, and a policeman spends the rest of his life trying to solve the mystery of her death. The novel begins years after the murder, as the policeman writes his memories of the crime into journals, but to him it seems like yesterday. As the narration moves between the past and the present, not only does the mystery unfold, but also the psyche of an entire French town in the years during the First World War.

The plot revolves around the prosecutor in the town, an important man whom the town respects but doesn't necessarily like. Pierre-Ange Destinat lives a remote and isolated life moving between his large but empty chateau and the courtroom, where he always gets a conviction and most likely a head. His one social concession is lunch in a town pub, a routine that is as unvarying as it is boring. His nemesis, the judge, is a greedy man who acknowledges him from a nearby table, but seems above talking with him. The two are waited on by the publican's young daughters, the youngest of whom is known affectionately as Morning Glory.

When Morning Glory is found dead, strangled on the banks of a river, the judge performs a summary investigation, but doesn't seem interested in pursuing the case or finding the truth.

The strange thing about the inquiry was that it got assigned to everybody and nobody. Mierck made a mess of it. The mayor stuck his nose in. The policemen sniffed the pile of shit from a distance. But taking the lead was a colonel who showed up the day after the crime and used the state of war and our being in the front-line zone as an excuse to give us orders.

The judge and the mysterious colonel convict two young deserters of the crime and declare the case closed, forbidding the policeman narrator from investigating further. But he can never let it go. In part because of its iniquitous nature, in part because the girl's death is tied up with his memories of the apparent suicide of a beautiful young teacher in Destinat's house and with the tragic loss of his own wife. As he relates his memories of the crime, the policeman also beautifully brings to life a small town struggling to deal with industrialization and the horrors of war and its casualties. Nothing is black and white, not the war, not its victims, not the crime, and not the souls of those involved in the crime investigation. Only little Morning Glory is innocent, and she is dead.

I love the works of Philippe Claudel and was not disappointed in this one. Like [Brodeck], the novel is set in a place and time that are part of the story itself. Small town life is depicted as both intimate and as isolating for the outsider. Like [Monsieur Linh and His Child], this novel has a surprising twist at the end, but smaller and without the emotional impact. For [By a Slow River] is emotionally restrained, powerful yet subdued. Although this may not be his strongest novel, it by no means detracts from the author's body of work. ( )
5 vote labfs39 | Apr 1, 2013 |
An enigmatic, possibly unreliable narrator tells a tale of sorrow, suspense, tragedy and ironic justice set in a small village in France during WWI. I found reading this novel frustrating and rewarding in approximately equal parts. The non-linear narrative kept me slightly off-balance, while the underlying mysteries kept me reading with a sense of some urgency. A few translational glitches threw me out of the moment from time to time, and I wish they had kept the original title, Gray Souls, which seems so much more appropriate. ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Mar 4, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philippe Claudelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Casassas, AnnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Obstová, ZoraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sarkar, ManikTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
I'm here. Being here is my fate.

Jean-Claude Pirotte, An Autumn Journey
To be the court clerk of time,
some magistrate's aide who happens to be around
when humans blend with light.

Jean-Claude Tardif, The Contemptible Man
Dedication
In memory of André Vers
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It's very difficult to find the beginning.
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to the English one.
Souls are never black or white; they're all gray in the end, Dadais. You're a gray soul for sure, just like the rest of us.
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"As the First World War rages on, the daily life of a small town near the front is hardly disturbed by the report of artillery fire and the parade of wounded in its streets. But within the space of a year, this illusion of ordinary days is shattered by the deaths of three innocents - a charming schoolmistress from "the north, " who captured every male heart only to take her own life without apparent reason; an angelic eight-year-old girl, who is strangled, her body abandoned by the canal; and the cherished wife of the local policeman, who dies in labor while her husband is hunting the little girl's murderer." "Twenty years on, the policeman still struggles to make sense of these mysteries that both torment and sustain him. In the pages of his notebooks he continually - desperately, obsessively - summons up the past and its ghosts. But excavating the town's secret history will bring neither peace to him nor justice to the wicked. And as his solitary detective work continues on these long-closed cases, we come to see that his efforts can lead only to an unimaginable widening of the tragedy." "In the policeman's simple, plangent voice - full of unflinching scrutiny and the compassion of weary experience - Philippe Claudel gives us a tale of galvanizing suspense and an indelible meditation on morality."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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