Translation: Daniel Hahn (2013)
Edition: MacLehose (2013)
Even the very shortest summary of The Investigation makes the main feature of the novel immediately apparent. The Investigator is sent to look into a series of suicides at the Firm, and has a series of strange experiences in the Town. This immediately shows that virtually nothing in the book is named directly, everything being given a role in a way which makes the novel seem to be full of symbols (these substitutes where names are normally used are always capitalised). The symbolic side of the novel is so apparent that it is noticed by the
characters (in a none-too-original ironic touch); the Investigator and
the Policeman discuss whether they might be in a novel about three
quarters of the way through.
The important exception to the lack of proper names is the hotel in which the Investigator stays, Hope Hotel, and this actually makes the symbolic nature of the book seem even clearer: it is a bizarre place, and every time the Investigator's hopes rise that he might actually have a decent room and breakfast, they are doomed to strange disappointments: bathrooms where all the taps dispense boiling water, breakfasts where everyone else is served lavishly while he is given just two rusks. If The Investigation has any message it is this: that life is confusing, surreal, and doomed to disappointment.
What the reader thinks of the novel will almost certainly be determined by what they think of this defining foible. For me, it was interesting to begin with, but quickly became irritating. Although a short novel by modern standards, The Investigation felt over long and extended; perhaps the natural length for literature which is so dependent on a quirky structural idea is the short story.
Most reviews I have seen of The Investigation emphasise how much it is like Kafka. This is true, in its portrayal of an innocent individual caught up in amysterious, bureaucratic nightmare. Claudel also brings in absurd and humorous elements, and the overall tone is much lighter. It's a black comedy, not a nightmare at all. Much of the humour is about the mishaps of the Investigator, and that has a cruel side to it which I personally don't find amusing.
My rating: 4/10.