GREY SOULS
Philippe Claudel

 


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Phoenix Paperbacks, June 2006
Reviewed by Sally Roddom

GREY SOULS is a prime example of not judging a book by its cover. This story will stay with you for a long time after you finish reading it. The setting is a small town in Northern France at the tail end of the First World War, 1917. Battles are still being fought in the trenches, within sight and sound of the town. Most of the men in the town are not fighting, as they are needed in the local factory.

One cold winter morning the residents discover there is a worse atrocity occurring than those on the battlefields. The ten year old daughter of the local innkeeper is found strangled and dumped in the canal. Suspicion quickly falls on two deserters who are picked up near the town. A quick kangaroo court ensures their guilt, and their sentencing, and subsequent punishment, is brutal and swift.

The story is narrated by a local policeman, who, twenty years later, starts to put together what actually happened. Not present at the trial, as he was at the bedside of his dying wife, he has lingering doubts that justice was done and wants to set the record straight for his own peace of mind.

Translated from French by Adriana Hunter, the story starts off very slowly; it is too deep, too unclear, and too poetical. Gradually it becomes a page-turning whodunit producing emotions that stayed with me long after the book was put down. Mud, mists and misery each play a major role in creating the atmosphere of the book. The characters are not just words on pages, they are real people fleshed out by descriptions. This is a short book but not a short story.

Aug 2006 review originally published on Murder & Mayhem

 

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