De–historicising the Holocaust: Philippe Claudel’s Le Rapport de Brodeck

  • Helena Duffy (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


Published in 2007 to unanimous acclaim, Le Rapport de Brodeck tells the story of a former concentration camp prisoner who a year after returning to his village is coerced by his neighbours into testifying to their murder of a benevolent newcomer. Despite striking parallels between Brodeck’s experience of deportation and captivity, and the camps established by the Germans in order to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population, Philippe Claudel leaves his novel’s spatiotemporal setting disturbingly vague, resolutely abstaining from mentioning words such as ‘Jew’, ‘German’, ‘Nazi’ or ‘Holocaust’. Together with the author’s use of animal imagery and his intertextual references to fairy tales, this lack of geographical or historical precision makes Le Rapport de Brodeck generically akin to a fable or a parable, which Claudel’s novel evidently parodies. Although, as exemplified by Jerzy Kosiński’s The Painted Bird, Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose or Art Spiegelman’s Maus, such genres or their elements had been successfully deployed by writers addressing the Nazi genocide, Claudel’s departure from realism remains problematic if illuminated by the debates about the Holocaust’s uniqueness and the ethics of its historicisation. It is in this context that I reconsider Le Rapport de Brodeck, whose timelessness and universality I regard as part of its postmodern aesthetics, parody being, according to Linda Hutcheon, postmodernism’s privileged mode of engaging with past narratives and narrative conventions. The broader question which Claudel’s award–winning novel therefore raises concerns the appropriateness of postmodern narrative techniques in fiction dealing with the Holocaust, where desire for experimentation has been largely bridled by the generally accepted sacredness of the subject.
Period18 Jan 2017
Held atUniversity of Warwick, French Department


  • Philippe Claudel
  • Le Rapport de Brodeck
  • Holocaust
  • Postmodernism
  • Uniqueness