Philippe Claudel's Les Âmes grises (Grey Souls) is in part a criticism of war, but Le Rapport de Brodeck (simply translated in English as Brodeck) is a scathing indictment of it. Although the novel doesn't specifically give the time in which the novel is set we know it's after the end of the nineteenth century, and although there are a number of oblique references to World War II – the persecution of minorities, occupation of foreign territories, the group leader with the forename Adolf, the concentration camps, Pürische Nacht, even the use of the German language – no country is mentioned by name. Similarly, although a number of geographical locations are given and have Germanic names, they are all fictional creations, and the village where virtually all the action takes place is unnamed: Claudel certainly has Nazism in mind, but by being unspecific he's broadening the canvas, making general remarks about human behaviour.
So he carries Poupchette off, carries Emélia off, carries Fédorine off while pulling the cart along, and when he looks back the village has gone, as if it never existed. Retake – this is beginning to sound like La Moustache. He carries all three and pulls the cart and the town ceases to exist? What? Earlier on in the book Brodeck has said – very oddly – that it suits Orschwir to pretend that Emélia and Poupchette don't exist. And then towards the end of the novel Brodeck tells the story of the poor tailor Bilissi, a story which Fédorine told him when he was a young boy and which takes the ground from under your feet, leaving you with nothing to cling to, what you saw before you perhaps wasn't entirely real. The tailor's mother dies first, and then his wife, and he picks up his daughter, sings her a song, feeds her and kisses her without noticing that his lips have met the air, and his daughter has never, ever existed. Yep, Claudel too takes the ground from under your feet. Dazzling, terrifying.
My other post on Philippe Claudel:
Philippe Claudel: Les Âmes grises | Grey Souls