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By a Slow River by Philippe Claudel

By a Slow River (2003)

by Philippe Claudel

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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9944213,140 (3.77)107
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English (18)  French (6)  Spanish (6)  Dutch (6)  Italian (4)  Finnish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (42)
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Excerpts from my original GR review (Sep 2009):
- ..for all the lurking menace of evil-doing that hovers over this story, this novel is decidedly NOT a crime thriller in the genre sense. This is good literature, and it reads as if it were penned in 1925, let alone narrated in that year.
- An unnamed policeman relates the story of a small French village, and the intrigue occurring there, during the Great War. The "great slaughter" is always rumbling nearby, but the War itself is mostly an atmospheric bystander in the tale. A gloomy, unfeeling local prosecutor, Destinat, is the central character. His own personal tragedy renders him silent outside the courtroom. His startling discovery of another tragedy in an adjoining residence only pronounces his despair and hurries his retirement.
- Two years pass, and a gruesome discovery along a lovely canal in town deepens the nebulous shroud of mystery, or even mystique, that hangs over the village. Charges are trumped up against a war deserter by the despicable court judge..
- The author weaves the stories amongst each other, shifting time periods back and forth from "present" 1925 to the callous events of wartime. The narrator is a fly-on-the-wall to some extent, as the mutual disdain between he and the judge, added to an inept mayor and withdrawing prosecutor, leaves the policeman little room to investigate.
- The truth behind the tragedies is only discovered much after the war is over, and the revelation of the circumstances very near the book's end are told masterfully. The shades of evil, the atmospheric shadowing of reality, make this an old classic at its core. Phillipe Claudel is best known as a screenwriter, but this English translation of one of his first novels makes me hope for more. I resoundingly recommend. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Mar 14, 2018 |
What a wonderful sad story. It is told from the view of a police officer who has a lot of sympathy for all the inhabitants of a little Belgian village. He suffers all incidents with them which they have to face to. He describes everything with a great care and love for all protagonists be they rich or poor, a celebrity or a 'nobody'. In the end it's clear that he is one of them, facing the same problems as they do and perhaps his sympathy for everyone else is at the same moment his therapy for surviving.
Philippe Claudel's language is rich and subtly nuanced. It's a great pleasure to follow his story and his thoughts. ( )
  Ameise1 | Sep 9, 2015 |
Translated title: By a Slow River ( )
  tangledthread | Aug 4, 2015 |

The stars are for the quality of the writing - the story itself is unremitting bleak. ( )
  kaggsy | Mar 9, 2015 |
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. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | Jul 2, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (38 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philippe Claudelprimary authorall editionscalculated
Casassas, AnnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hunter, AdrianaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Obstová, ZoraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sarkar, ManikTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soriano Marco, José AntonioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soriano Marco, José AntonioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soriano Marco, José AntonioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soriano Marco, José AntonioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soriano, José AntonioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soriano, José AntonioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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
In memory of André Vers
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Ik weet niet precies waar ik zal beginnen.
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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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Tells the story of an old fisherman's struggle against natural obstacles that hinder the catch of a huge marlin

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