When I Was Five I Killed Myself is a fantastic little book! It was first brought to my attention by Scott from Me and My Big Mouth and I’d like to thank him, as I don’t think I’d ever have discovered this little gem without him.
The book has a very interesting history. It was originally published in the US in 1981 under the title Burt, but sadly failed to take off there. It then became hugely popular in France and ended up becoming a classic in the country; it is claimed that 1 in 10 French people have read this book. It is a real shame that When I Was Five I Killed Myself is virtually unknown in the English speaking world, as it is wonderful and deserves to become a classic in all languages.
The book begins with Burt letting us know he is in a Children’s Trust Residence Centre for the terrible thing he did to a girl called Jessica. The centre appears to be a cross between a mental hospital and a children’s home, but it is never made clear exactly what kind of institution it is. The entire book is narrated by 8-year-old Burt, who is clearly troubled and suffering from Asperger’s syndrome (as with the central character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.) The crime Burt committed is revealed gradually, but we know from the beginning that it was serious enough to leave Jessica in hospital.
I loved every page of this emotional novella. In many ways the book reminded me of Flowers For Algernon, questioning they way in which we treat those in society who behave differently to everyone else. The child’s point of view was realistic and disturbing. I really empathised with Burt and found his confusion at the outside world insightful and traumatizing.
I should mention now that my oldest son is suspected of having Asperger’s Syndrome, so this book had an added depth of meaning for me. I don’t think I have ever found so much emotion in such a short book.
The ending surprised me, but also left me begging for the sequel, which unfortunately doesn’t exist.
I highly recommend you find a copy of this little book.
I’m planning to read Marcelo in the Real World soon. Have you read any other books which contain a character with Asperger’s Syndrome?