Review: Grey Souls (2003), by Philippe Claudel

This post is bilingual, scroll down for the English language version

Almas grises. Traducción de José Antonio Soriano Marco, 2005. Título original: Les Âmes grises, 2003 de Philippe Claudel. Ediciones Salamandra, 2010. Colección X Aniversario. 220 páginas. ISBN: 978-84-9838-335-5.

Almas grises da cuenta de unos acontecimientos que tuvieron lugar hace unos veinte años durante la Primera Guerra Mundial, en diciembre de 1917. La acción se desarrolla en el norte de Francia. El cuerpo de “Belle”, una hermosa niña de diez años de edad, aparece flotando en un canal en un pequeño pueblo no lejos de las trincheras. Todas las sospechas recaen sobre un rico aristócrata jubilado, Pierre-Ange Destinat. Durante más de treinta años fue fiscal en un pueblo cercano. Sin embargo, dos desertores son capturados cerca de la escena del crimen. Uno se suicida en la cárcel, el otro es declarado culpable y ejecutado. La crónica de estos hechos está narrada en primera persona por un hombre cuyo nombre desconocemos. Era el policía local en ese momento, aunque su papel fue sólo marginal. Y una realidad completamente diferente saldrá a la luz.

Tengo que admitir que he encontrado este libro muy conmovedor. Se ofrece un retrato fantástico de los diferentes personajes y una excelente visión de una época. A pesar de su tono sombrío, la trama es muy interesante. La historia es triste, pero está muy bien escrita. Sin embargo, el capítulo final surge como una verdadera conmoción y es muy desagradable en mi opinión. Mi disfrute de la lectura se echó a perder por completo, como alguien ha indicado con anterioridad. Para mí esto es hacer trampa y el autor no es demasiado honesto con el lector.

Mi valoración: 2/5 (de lo contrario lo habría valorado 4/5).

Philippe Claudel ganó el Premio Renaudot en Francia, fue finalista del American Gumshoe Award, y ganó el Premio Martín Beck de Suecia por Les Âmes grises (2003). También ganó el Independent Foreign Fiction Prize en el 2010, por  Le rapport de Brodeck (2007) [Título español: El informe de Brodeck], probablemente el mejor libro que leí en el 2009. Ver mi reseña en español AQUÍ. Les Âmes grises fue llevada a la pantalla por el director Yves Angelo en el 2005.

La reseña de Almas grises de José María Guelbenzu, ofrece una opinión diferente.


Review: Grey Souls (aka By a Slow River), by Philippe Claudel

Grey Souls provides an account of some events that took place about twenty years ago during the First World War, in December 1917. The action is set in Northern France. The body of “Belle” a beautiful ten-year-old girl appears floating in a canal in a small village not far from the trenches. All suspicions fall on a retired wealthy aristocrat, Pierre-Ange Destinat. For over thirty years he was a prosecutor in a town nearby. However, two deserters are captured near the crime scene. One commits suicide in jail, the other is found guilty and executed. The chronicle of these events is narrated in the first person by an unnamed man.  He was a local policeman at that time, although his role was only marginal. And a complete different reality will come to light.

I have to admit that I found this book quite moving. It provides a fantastic portrait of the different characters and an excellent overview of an era. Despite its bleak tone, the plot is very interesting. The story is sad but nicely written. However, the final chapter comes as a real shock and is quite disgusting in my opinion. My reading enjoyment was spoiled completely, as someone said before. For me this is cheating and the author is not honest enough with the reader.

My rating: 2/5 (otherwise I would have rated it 4/5)

Philippe Claudel won the Prix Renaudot in France, was shortlisted for the American Gumshoe Award, and won Sweden’s Martin Beck Award for Les Âmes grises (2003). He also won the 2010 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, for Le rapport de Brodeck (2007) [English title: Brodeck’s Report], probably the best book I read in 2009. My review, in Spanish, is HERE. Les Âmes griseswas brought to the screen by director Yves Angelo in 2005.

For other reviews: The Complete Review, Reading Matters, Customer reviews Amazon.co.uk, Customer reviews Amazon.

Currently Reading: Les Âmes grises

Les Âmes grises is a novel by the French author Philippe Claudel. It is a first person narrative which revolves around the murder of a young girl in a small provincial French town near the Western Front in 1917. The book was published in France in 2003 and won the Prix Renaudot. It was also shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Femina. The British edition, translated by Adriana Hunter, has been released under the title Grey Souls, while the American translation by Hoyt Rogers is called By a Slow River. (taken from Wikipedia). The Spanish translation, Almas grises, by José Antonio Soriano Marco is published by Ediciiones Salamandra, 2005. Stay tuned.

The Spanish publisher’s summary reads: December 1917. In a small town in Northern France, the body of Belle, a beautiful ten year old girl, appears floating in the canal. The murder raises many suspicions, awakens old grudges and shakes a social order that is crumbling. All signs point to the local prosecutor Destinat, a retired wealthy aristocrat, but the Judge found as guilty two deserters captured near the crime scene. However, the chronicle of the events, written twenty years after the incident by the man that was a policeman at that time, invites the reader to discover an unexpected reality.

Last Acquisitions

Blanco nocturno (Nocturnal Target) by Ricardo Piglia, Anagrama 2010. The blurb reads: ‘Tony Duran, born in Puerto Rico, educated as an American in New Jersey, was killed in the early seventies in a village in the province of Buenos Aires. He came following the beautiful Belladonna sisters, the twins Ada and Sofia. He met them in Atlantic City, and they hatched a happy trio until one of them, Sofia, deserted the game. And Tony Duran remained with Ada, and followed her to Argentina, where he met his death. After the crime, the detective story mutates into a story tied to archaeology and to family dynasties, which combines a genre novel with a splendid literary construction. The luminous centre of this book is Luca Belladonna, builder of a ghostly factory lost following an insane project. The appearance of Emilio Renzi, a traditional Piglia character, gives a wry and touching conclusion to the story.’

Almas grises (Grey Souls) by Philippe Claudel, Salamandra, 2010. From Fantastic Fiction: ‘This is ostensibly a detective story, about a crime that is committed in 1917, and solved 20 years later. The location is a small town in Northern France, near V., in the dead of the freezing winter. The war is still being fought in the trenches, within sight and sound of the town, but the men of the town have been spared the slaughter because they are needed in the local factory. One morning a beautiful ten year old girl, one of the three daughters of the innkeeper, is found strangled and dumped in the canal. Suspicion falls on two deserters who are picked up near the town. Their interrogation and sentencing is brutal and swift. Twenty years later, the narrator, a local policeman, puts together what actually happened. On the night the deserters were arrested and interrogated, he was sitting by the beside of his dying wife. He believes that justice was not done and wants to set the record straight. But the death of the child was not the only crime committed in the town during those weeks. More than one record has to be set straight. Beautiful, like a fairy story almost, frozen in time, this novel has an hypnotic quality.’

Testigo involuntario (Involuntary Witness) by Gianrico Carofiglio, books4pocket, 2010. Bitter Lemon Press publicity page reads: ‘A nine-year-old boy is found murdered at the bottom of a well near a popular beach resort in southern Italy. In what looks like a hopeless case for Guido Guerrieri, counsel for the defence, a Senegalese peddler is accused of the crime. Faced with small-town racism fuelled by the recent immigration from Africa, Guido attempts to exploit the esoteric workings of the Italian courts’.

El tiempo de los emperadores extraños (The Time of the Strange Emperors) by Ignacio del Valle, Punto de lectura 2007. The publisher’s blurb reads: ‘Leningrad Battle Front. 1943. The Blue Division is trapped between the Red Army and History in the middle of the frozen Hades which was the Russian battle front. The corpse of a soldier is discovered in this scenery. The victim’s neck has been cut off and buried up to the waist in a frozen lake. A mysterious sentence has been written on his chest: “TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THAT GOD’S WATCHING YOU”. Arturo Andrade and Sergeant Espinosa will be in charge of finding out the causes of the crime. This will lead them, among corpses surrounded by bloody rituals, to an obscure place where emptiness, absurdity and horror reign… the strange emperors’.  For additional information about the Blue Division you can check the Wikipedia entry HERE.

To my knowledge Nocturnal Target and The Time of the Strange Emperors have not been translated into English. The Time of the Strange Emperors has been published in France recently.

Does any of these stories, authors or titles look attractive to you? Since I cannot make up  my mind. Which one should I read first? Your comments are welcome.

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

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DOBLE MIRADA-Rustica 135x215-Fotolito Brodeck's Report Le Raport Thanks to Uriah (aka Norman) at Crime Scraps I just heard that the winner of this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is Brodeck’s Report by Philippe Claudel. For more information you can click here.

This was probably one of the best books I’ve read last year. You can see my post here. (In Spanish).

I look forward to read Grey Souls (aka By a Slow River) and La Petite Fille De Monsieur Linh, which as far as I know is not available in English yet.

Norman review at Euro Crime

Top 10 crime fiction reads for 2009

This is my contribution to Best Crime Fiction Reads in 2009 sponsored by Kerrie in Mysteries in Paradise.

I’ve included only author, English title (Spanish title), and just one book by author.

On purpose I’ve left out one of the best books I’ve read this year, Cormac McCarthy Blood Meridian (Meridiano de sangre).

I’ve not included books that are not available in English.

My list (author’s name in alphabetic order)

Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely (Adiós, muñeca)
Philippe Claudel, Brodeck’s Report (El informe de Brodeck)
Michael Connelly, The Brass Verdict (El veredicto)
Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (La reina en el palacio de las corrientes de aire)
Henning Mankell, The Fifth Woman (La quinta mujer)
Jo Nesbø, The Redbreast (Petirrojo)
George Pelecanos, The Night Gardener (El jardinero nocturno)
Ian Rankin, The Naming of the Dead (Nombrar a los muertos)
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Man on the Balcony (El hombre del balcón)
Fred Vargas, This Night’s Foul Work (La tercera virgen)

Esta es mi contribución a mis mejores lecturas en 2009 de crimen y misterio, organizada por Kerrie en Mysteries in Paradise.

He incluído sólo autor, título en ingés (título en español) y sólo un libro por autor.

A propósito he dejado fuera uno de los mejores libros que he leído este año, Meridiano de sangre.

No he incluido libros que no están disponibles en inglés.

Mi lista (nombre del autor por orden alfabético)