Novella a Day in May 2020 #7

Monsieur Linh and His Child – Philippe Claudel (2005, trans. Euan Cameron 2011) 130 pages

I only knew Philippe Claudel as a film director until Emma’s review of Monsieur Linh and His Child put his work as a novelist on my radar. Do head over to Emma’s review as she has lots of interesting things to say about this novella. She also rightly pointed out it would be a perfect read for NADIM, so here it is!

Monsieur Linh arrives in an unspecified French port town as a refugee from an East Asian war. His son and daughter-in-law were killed, and he has fled with his baby granddaughter, Sang Diû.

“Six weeks. This is how long the voyage lasts. So that when the ship arrives at its destination, the little girl has already doubled the length of her life. As for the old man, he feels as if he has aged a hundred years.”

Monsieur Linh is a lonely and isolated figure. His fellow refugees cook for him but do so without any warmth or affection. He is deeply traumatised and lives only for his granddaughter.

One day, walking in the unfamiliar town with its cars, strange food, odd smells and a language he doesn’t understand, he meets Monsieur Bark, when they sit on the same park bench. Monsieur Bark is a widower who is grieving deeply for his wife.  He smokes and talks incessantly, although Monsieur Linh cannot understand a word.

“When Monsieur Bark speaks, Monsieur Linh listens to him very attentively and looks at him, as if he understood everything and did not want to lose any of the meaning of the words. What the old man senses is that the tone of Monsieur Bark’s voice denotes sadness, a deep melancholy, a sort of wound the voice accentuates, which accompanies it beyond words and language, something that infuses it just as the sap infuses a tree without one seeing it.”

The language barrier does not mean that there is a lack of understanding between the two men. Claudel demonstrates without sentimentality how a true friendship develops between them, affectionate and accepting and full of meaning for both. These two deeply traumatised men are able to help each other heal in a way that is wholly believable and deeply moving.

Monsieur Linh and His Child is a wonderful, heartwarming story about the nature of unconditional love, friendship, and how we can help alleviate others’ pain without words. It’s about the humanity that bonds us all, and that is a timely reminder in today’s political climate. Highly recommended.

Here is the French cover, because as Emma rightly pointed out, the UK edition is ugly:

24 thoughts on “Novella a Day in May 2020 #7

  1. I remember reading Emma’s review, and I probably left a similar comment to the one I’m doing now! This sounds very unlike the two Claudels I’ve read, “Grey Souls” and “Brodeck’s Report” – both of which I found so depressing that I vowed never to read him again. But this sounds very different and I might almost be tempted!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this novella and it was also the first book I ever read in French. And my first Philippe Claudel, I appreciated Brodeck’s Report but perhaps because I’d read this first it was easier to accept the more sombre tale.

    I lent this to my French neighbour but she was very unhappy with it, due to the twist. And the I lent it to a visiting French Literature Professor from Colgate University and he was so enamoured it of it, it’s now part of his teaching syllabus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can imagine this is a wonderful way to start reading in a new language, it’s simply told but so affecting. I’d like to read more by Claudel.

      I found the twist really moving because to me it deepened the friendship between the two men, but I can imagine its not for everyone. Lovely to hear it’s being taught in university, thanks to you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, he was so excited at it’s potential (he was looking for themes of identity) he sent me an an essay like response with all the potential aspects he’d be exploring, I was amazed and delighted and slightly envious not to be able to be a fly on the wall in the class! But at least I get the less pressured enjoyment of social engagement and conversation, not homework!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I followed the link to Emma’s blog and am now subscribed to her as well: thanks for that. Also, thanks for another author/title for my TBR. This sounds so good, and I’m greatly intrigued by the ending. Sit me over on the divan with Lisa, as I don’t mind the cover either. It’s quite a different sensibility, I agree, but as a little girl, I would have just loved those shiny shoes (though I don’t think I ever had a pair of white tights)!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great news, Emma’s blog is wonderful! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. I must admit I would have liked those shoes too, but I would never have been allowed white tights, they’d be grey and/or muddy in minutes 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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