Literature and War Readalong August 30 2013: Grey Souls by Philippe Claudel

Grey Souls

I wanted to read Philippe Claudel since years and looking for a WWI novel I came across his Grey SoulsLes âmes grises. Like most of his other books the novel has been translated into 25 languages and was generally liked by readers and critics. From what I know so far, the war is not predominant in the novel. It’s more like the starting point to a crime which is solved much later. From some of the reviews I got that it’s quite heavy and brooding.

Here is the blurb

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. 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 freezing cold morning in the dead of winter, a beautiful ten year old girl, one of three daughters of the local 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 bedside 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.

The first sentences:

I don’t really know where to start. It’s quite difficult. All this time that has gone by, which words will never bring back, the faces too, and the smiles, the wounds. Still I need to try to say it. Say what’s been bothering me for twenty years. The remorse and the big questions. I have to cut open the mystery with a knife, just like a belly, and sink my hands in, even if that’s not going to change a thing.

The book has been made into a movie but I don’t know whether it’s available in English


The discussion starts on Friday, 30 August 2013.

Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2013, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.

36 thoughts on “Literature and War Readalong August 30 2013: Grey Souls by Philippe Claudel

  1. This looks like an interesting book, Caroline! A WWI novel with focus on a murder mystery – it sounds fascinating, though from your description of it, it also looks a bit sad. I will look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. Happy reading!

  2. This one sounds great. Unfortunately i’ll be out of town that week. Can’t wait to read your thoughts when I get back to London. Happy reading.

  3. Stories about single murders near the much larger carnage of war are interesting for some reason. Perhaps the irony of the situation is what intrigues us.

    I looked but could not be sure if there is an English subtitled version of the film available.

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