A man, who we know only as The Investigator, has just arrived on the train and is getting wet from the rain. He is here to undertake an investigation for The Firm; apparently there have been a number of employee suicides. He takes a moment to collect himself, having a drink in the bar across the street from the train station, time getting away from him without his noticing. By the time he decides to make his arrival known, the day is all but over, the rain has grown much worse and, as he tramps the streets, he wonders if he might not in fact be in trouble. The Firm turns him away as he doesn’t have the right authorisation. A hotel eventually takes him in but only after significant rigmarole. His sleep is disturbed. The following morning he can’t seem to convince anyone to give him the breakfast that the majority of his fellow sojourners are enjoying. He is sidetracked. bullied, mocked, derided, questioned, doubted, pushed to one side, cast aside.
Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to the world of Philippe Claudel’s captivating The Investigation, a comic, Kafkan, existential howl of despair, a curious cartoon, a hilarious retake of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy that traverses similar narrative paths to both Magnus Mills’ All Quiet on the Orient Express and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled.
The Investigator has a job of work to do that no-one seems particularly keen on letting him do. But the Investigator is also a great questioner, a terrific self-doubter, a morbid, anxious worrier and over-thinker. What did that thing that that person said actually mean? Even as the Investigator makes his troubled way through the world, however, the world itself alters and morphs, a character in its own right that refuses to behave as the world we suspect should behave. Are we really where we think we are? What do the phone calls the Investigator receives first thing each morning really mean? Who can we trust? Can we trust the Investigator? Can we trust what we are told? More importantly, what are we being told?
Written in lucid prose that never leaves you in any doubt as to where you actually are (even as, at the same time, you read, your mind awash with questions along the lines of ‘is this real? is this really real?’), The Investigation takes certain themes raised in Claudel’s last novel, the almost equally excellent Monsieur Linh and his Child – such as identity and narrative sleight of hand (narrative sleight of hand of the Gilbert Adair variety) – and builds upon them to exhilarating effect, leaving us at the climax with a disintegration on a par with the disintegration of Brundlefly at the climax of Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly. All told, a wild ride, a blast, an excellent novel to have read first in 2013 (as I did) and a read that is thoroughly recommended to all right thinking citizens of this land.
Any Cop?: A hilarious tragedy, a heartbreaking comedy, a perfectly straightforward experimental novel (a novel, then, that plays similar tricks to Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn & Child), The Investigation could well be all things to all sorts of different people. Highly recommended.