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ÂMES GRISES (LES) [Mass Market Paperback]

PHILIPPE CLAUDEL
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 7 2006 Livre Poche Litt.Générale (Book 3051)
" Elle ressemblait ainsi à une très jeune princesse de conte, aux lèvres bleuies et aux paupières blanches. Ses cheveux se mêlaient aux herbes roussies par les matins de gel et ses petites mains s'étaient fermées sur du vide. Il faisait si froid ce jour-là que les moustaches de tous se couvraient de neige à mesure qu'ils soufflaient l'air comme des taureaux. On battait la semelle pour faire revenir le sang dans les pieds. Dans le ciel, des oies balourdes traçaient des cercles. Elles semblaient avoir perdu leur route. Le soleil se tassait dans son manteau de brouillard qui peinait à s'effilocher. On n'entendait rien. Même les canons semblaient avoir gelé. " C'est peut-être enfin la paix... hasarda Grosspeil. -La paix mon os ! " lui lança son collègue qui rabattit la .aine trempée sur le corps de la fillette. "

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Nous sommes en 1917 dans une petite ville de province. Toute la société des notables est présente et tient son rôle. Le maire, le juge, le procureur, le flic, le médecin… tous font rouler depuis des années l’agréable train-train de la comédie sociale faite d’amicaux échanges. C’est curieux, même la Grande Guerre ne semble pas avoir bousculé les positions et les habitudes de chacun. Tout reste bien en place dans l’immuable tranquillité de la bourgeoisie sûre d’elle-même. Pourtant tout bascule lorsqu’une fillette de 10 ans est retrouvée morte dans l’eau. La petite Belle-de-jour, comme on l’appelle. Tous la connaissent, elle servait au Rébillon, la seule brasserie restaurant du coin. "Bien, bien, bien…" reprend le juge, tout content d’avoir un meurtre, un vrai à se mettre sous la dent, un meurtre d’enfant en plus, et de petite fille pour couronner le tout. Dès lors, le soupçon gagne et rogne les âmes grises de nos notables. En premier lieu le procureur qui habite au château, juste à côté du lieu du meurtre…
Philippe Claudel possède un grand talent de conteur. Auteur de plusieurs romans, de récits, de chroniques, de nouvelles, il sait imposer d’emblée un ton particulier, soit une forme assez conventionnelle et classique de la composition mêlée à une plongée psychologique subtile et noire dans le fond de chaque être. --Denis Gombert --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Les Ames grises (Prix Renaudot 2003, consacré meilleur livre de l'année 2003 par le magazine Lire, Grand Prix des lectrices de Elle catégorie roman) a été traduit dans vingt-cinq pays.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Calling forth the shadows..." Oct. 10 2010
By Friederike Knabe TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
"I don't really know where to start. It is rather difficult. So much time has passed, that the words can never be recaptured, nor can the faces, the smiles, the wounds." Still, he needs to try, to say what has been burdening his heart for twenty years. Philippe Claudel opens his hauntingly beautiful, dramatic novel with these confessions of his first person narrator. Later on, he explains that words are difficult for him. "During my lifetime, I hardly spoke. Now I write as if I had died since then. And, deep down, that is true. That's the real, true truth. For a long time now, I feel dead. I pretend that I still live a bit. I am on borrowed time. That's all."

The events that continue to disturb the nameless narrator of LES AMES GRISES take place in a small town in northern France during World War I, in a region so close to the frontline, that the sounds of war provide a constant rumbling background. In the early days in 1914, town life follows its usual course and the war, assumed to be short lived, does not seem to concern the townspeople too much. The passing soldiers add good business for some and brings much needed work for others. As the narration touches on events later in time, Claudel convincingly evokes the impact on the town of the steadily growing viciousness of war: the hospital fills with wounded and near-dead and starving, exhausted, brutalized soldiers roam the countryside.

However, it is the murder in 1917 of a beautiful ten-year-old girl, Belle de jour, that disrupts the still prevailing attitude of complacency among the important "gentlemen". The "Case", as it is introduced early on by the narrator, raises questions that dig much deeper into the society's fabric than a simple police procedural would be able to explore.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Regrets and Understanding Oct. 6 2010
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Il est reparti dans ses regrets, et m'a laissé dans les miens. Je savais, comme lui sans doute, qu'on peut vivre dans les regrets comme dans un pays." Sadness clings to this novel like an autumn mist, but it is a sadness tempered by charity, and the understanding that most people are neither wholly good nor bad. As one of the characters tells the narrator, "Rien n'est ni tout noir, ni tout blanc, c'est le gris qui gagne. Les hommes et leurs âmes, c'est pareil... T'es une âme grise, joliment grise, comme nous tous...". Grey souls in a land of regrets may not sound very attractive, but one of Claudel's great achievements is to make the speaker's point that there is humanity and beauty in the middle ground.

I read this because I was blown away by Claudel's most recent novel, LE RAPPORT DE BRODECK. Indeed the two books are superficially similar. Both take place in wartime (BRODECK around WW2, ÂMES GRISES in WW1). Both are set in isolated villages in Northern France, whose petty local hierarchies are mercilessly laid bare. Both are first-person accounts by lonely men suffering a personal loss. But this is a much more difficult novel for a non-native reader, being full of colloquialisms, non-standard syntax, and unusual vocabulary. It is Claudel's intention, I think, to immerse the reader in the small Lorraine community and the flawed souls of its people. Unlike BRODECK, which turned outward, using the village to cast light on the mentality of the Holocaust, LES ÂMES GRISES turns its back on the war to probe the innermost recesses of the soul.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Un conteur qui gagne à être connu Dec 4 2005
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Très bon livre. Philippe Claudel est un conteur hors pair.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Murder and War Nov. 3 2006
By C. Diligenti Pickup - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Philippe Claudel's book takes the reader back in time to World War 1 in the Lorraine region of France. Already crushed by the war, the little community of V. is even more shaken by a series of suicides that culminate with the murder of a little girl. Although set in France between 1914 and 1937 (time when the narrator relates his memories), the book is strangely universal: war happens anywhere at any time and is no more than legalized crime; crime also happens anywhere at any time and when it is a small child that is involved, it remains all the more horrific. The reader quickly forgets that it is World War I and can easily apply the events to contemporary times, contemporary facts of war. The author also manages to convey intensity through the rich use of the lexical fields of blood: war, murder, suicide, delivery hemorraghy, death, and the permanence of the gray that is part of the French title. Are those "Ames grises" ghosts, are they grey because real life is never black and white, are they "grises" because they are drunk (in French, someone is "gris" when he or she ha had too much to drink, and in the book, it is the civilians and the soldiers' main occupation apart from dealing with the war)? There is no doubt that the author also played on Gogol's famous book "Dead Souls".

Until the very end, the author manages to capture the reader's intrerest and there is indeed no clues as to who has committed the crime. I will certainly not waste the reader's surprise.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "During my lifetime, I hardly spoke..." Oct. 10 2010
By Friederike Knabe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
"Now I write as if I had died since then. And, deep down, that is true. That's the real, true truth. For a long time now, I feel dead. I pretend that I still live a bit. I am on borrowed time. That's all." The events that, twenty years later, continue to disturb the nameless narrator of LES AMES GRISES take place in a small town in northern France during World War I, in a region so close to the frontline, that the sounds of war provide a constant rumbling background. In this hauntingly affecting, beautifully written novel Philippe Claudel convincingly evokes the impact on the town of V. of the steadily growing viciousness of war.

Central to the story, however, is the murder of a beautiful ten-year-old girl, Belle de jour, that disrupts the still prevailing attitude of complacency among the representatives of the town's establishment. The "Affaire "- Case, as it is introduced early on, raises questions that dig much deeper into the society's fabric than a simple police procedural would be able to do. In his recounting of the events surrounding Belle's death, the protagonist appears to hold his own investigation by introducing, one by one, many of the ghosts, whose long shadows still haunt him into the present. What may have been his role at the time? Through a "parade" of richly drawn characters, who had been either directly, indirectly or possibly involved with the young girl's life or the Case, Claudel weaves a captivating, subtly structured web of evidence, rumours, suspicions, interrogations and deliberate disregard of clues. From the judge, the prosecutor, the father of the victim, to police officers and military, to other important persons in the town and even in the protagonist's own life, all the brilliantly brought to life as individuals with their strengths and weaknesses.

The narrator's account is seemingly written in separate memory blocks (chapters), thus justifying the non-linear structure of his report. The reader's attention is constantly required to pick up clues and connections that will reveal much more than the reader would expect at any one time. The conclusion is dramatic and comes with more than one unexpected punch. An extraordinary and powerful novel that will linger on in the reader for a long time. [Friederike Knabe]
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Les Ames Grises June 3 2011
By S. Robison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
J'ai lu ce livre pour une classe de la littérature français aux Etats-Unis. Ce livre nous donne un perspectif très intéressante de la société humaine et l'idée qu'on, comme les êtres humaines, n'a pas des âmes blanches ou les âmes noires mais simplement les âmes grises. Tous les personnages du livre n'ont ni les âmes parfaits ni les âmes diables, mais une mélange des deux. Le livre donne beaucoup de suspense et est très philosophique, pour des francophones et même des anglophones!
5.0 out of 5 stars Troubling but Worthwhile Jan. 22 2014
By Lyn J Hale - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
A dark but fascinating read. Much more than a mystery, leaving the reader with more questions at the end than at the beginning. If you're looking for happy, resolved endings, this is not your book. If you would profit from a journey into the grey world of a tormented and not-so-admirable soul, you may find this book worth your while.
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