Here at the bookshop we all have our favourites that we recommend, rave about and generally unashamedly push on anyone looking for a good read. One of my colleagues particularly favours Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel, translated from the French by Euan Cameron (MacLehose Press).
It is a slight volume, only 144 pages, several years old now, with a beautiful cover. Claudel is a novelist, film director and university lecturer. He wrote and directed the startling and almost unbearably beautiful film I’ve Loved You So Long, which won the 2008 BAFTA for Best Film Not in English, so if you have seen that you know what delicate, oblique and overwhelming writing might be found in this novel. This is what my colleague said about it:
“This is an exquisitely written novel about an elderly Indochinese refugee, Monsieur Linh, who arrives in France clutching a tiny baby. The old man continues to care for the child, the only reminder of his precious family who have been killed in the war. Although he is traumatized, the child gives him a reason to live.
Struggling beneath the weight of his sorrow, increasingly bewildered and isolated in this unfamiliar, fast-moving new country Monsieur Linh is thought odd by those around him, some of whom begin to tease and ridicule him.
Then Monsieur Linh begins to form a friendship with a local man, Monsieur Bark, whom he meets on a park bench. Although they speak different languages they communicate in their own way and both care for the child. Monsieur Bark is a former soldier who fought against Monsieur Linh’s people and in his old age, feels great guilt.
This is a bittersweet tale of uncomplicated beauty with a couple of surprising twists towards the end. Its very simplicity is incredibly potent.”