Summary and book reviews of By a Slow River by Phillipe Claudel

By a Slow River

by Phillipe Claudel

By a Slow River
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2006, 208 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2007, 208 pages

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Book Summary

The daily life of a small town is hardly disturbed by the First World War raging nearby. But this illusion is shattered by the deaths of three innocents. Twenty years on, a policeman still struggles to make sense of the deaths which both torment and sustain him.

As the First World War rages on, the daily life of a small town near the front is hardly disturbed by the report of artillery fire and the parade of wounded in its streets. But within the space of a year, this illusion of ordinary days is shattered by the deaths of three innocents—a charming schoolmistress from “the north,” who captured every male heart only to take her own life without apparent reason; an angelic eight-year-old girl, who is strangled, her body abandoned by the canal; and the cherished wife of the local policeman, who dies in labor while her husband is hunting the little girl’s murderer.

Twenty years on, the policeman still struggles to make sense of these mysteries that both torment and sustain him. In the pages of his notebooks he continually—desperately, obsessively—summons up the past and its ghosts. But excavating the town’s secret history will bring neither peace to him nor justice to the wicked. And as his solitary detective work continues on these long-closed cases, we come to see that his efforts can lead only to an unimaginable widening of the tragedy.

In the policeman’s simple, plangent voice--full of unflinching scrutiny and the compassion of weary experience--Philippe Claudel gives us a tale of galvanizing suspense and an indelible meditation on morality.

I

It's very difficult to find the beginning. So much time has gone by that words will never bring back—and the faces too, the smiles, the wounds. Even so, I must try. I have to cut open the belly of the mystery and stick my hands deep inside, even if none of that will change a thing.

If somebody were to ask me how on earth I know all the things I'm going to recount, I'd answer that I just do. I know them because for twenty years they've been as familiar to me as the fall of night and the dawn of day. Because in fact I've spent my life trying to piece them together, to put them into place. So they can speak and I can listen. That used to be my job, more or less.

I'll be calling forth a lot of shadows, but one will be out front. It belongs to a certain Pierre-Ange Destinat. He was the prosecutor in V for more than thirty years, and he plied his trade like clockwork, never faltering, never breaking down. Actually, you could say he was an artist, and he didn...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A mature, patient reader will be rewarded by a gem of a book, both tragic and compelling, that explores the morality of crime and punishment, and the effects of war.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (371 words).

Media Reviews

The New York Times - Richard Eder

In this grave, achingly beautiful novel by Philippe Claudel, a village policeman writes out his sorrow-laden journal of the plague years. Their miasma envelops individuals' evils, decencies and mutual distances, and the deaths of four innocents.

Kirkus Reviews

The title refers to the listless waterway that winds alongside the town of V, in the French countryside, but it also seems to describe this meandering narrative.....a bloodless, nihilistic, open-ended whodunit.

Publishers Weekly

Psychologically complex, elegantly written and tightly plotted, this is far from your average policier.

Library Journal

Lyrical yet earthy ..... tales of murder, torture, and suicide unfold gradually, like the petals of a poisonous flower, delivering staggering plot twists up to the final page. The novel's true genius, however, lies in its ability to explore war's effects on civilians without resorting to cliches or excessive gore.

Booklist - Brad Hooper

Starred Review. As riveting as the story line is, the setting, ambience, and lovely language .... partner to flavor this novel with punch and spice.

Reader Reviews

donna nueva,

silence of the dead
Hardly to be called a crime novel, this existential novel about murder and relationships in a French town is an excellent read that will leave you thinking about the characters long after you put the book down.--Claudel is a master.

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Beyond the Book

Philippe Claudel was born in 1962. Before becoming a novelist, he was a special education teacher in Nancy (pronounced nonsi) , and a screenwriter. He lives in France where he is currently "professeur de lettres" at the university of Nancy in North-Eastern France.  This is his second novel; his first, Meuse l'oubli, (The ...

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