The Son by Michel Rostain

The SonTranslated from the French by Adriana Hunter

Winner of the Prix Goncourt 2011, Selected for Waterstones 11 2013

Five words from the blurb: meningitis, death, son, grief, life

Michel Rostain’s teenage son died suddenly from a virulent strain of meningitis. The Son is the fictionalised story of a family who lose their son to the same disease. It is written from the perspective of the teenage boy, Lion, and this omniscient narrator gives the book a special inquisitive perspective. The realistic nature of the text leads me to believe that much (all?) of this book is based on real events and this insight makes other books about grief seem insignificant.

This is one of the most emotionally powerful books I’ve ever read. It is one of the only books that has enabled me to completely understand what it is like to go through a devastating sequence of events. I hope I never have to experience anything like this, but if the worst happens this book has given me the comfort of knowing that life can go on afterwards.

The depth and range of emotion present in this book is breathtaking. It never becomes overly sentimental or shys away from showing the darker side of humanity. Shortcomings are open for all to see and this vulnerability only adds to emotional impact of this book.

I’ll be dead four hours later and Dad’s spending money in a supermarket. As of now, he will forever loathe the inevitable stop-off for the weekly shop. He’d always been disparaging about those nowhere-land places – shitty music, mediocre products, insidious layout, stooped ghost figures trundling from one shelf to another. But he still went every week, one of many contradictions. To think he lost some of the last few moments he could have spent with me alive – the memory of it destroys him.

The deep sadness is layered with hope; showing how friends and family can help each other through grief. It is a roller-coaster of emotion, and does have more downs than ups, but I think it is worth the emotional investment. The ending is beautiful and I only hope that Michel Rostain and his family had a similar outcome to their own tragedy.

Highly recommended.

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  1. Ifi says:

    Goodness Jackie, just reading your review alone made me emotional and at the end of which I realized I had been holding my breath. “The most emotionally powerful book you’ve ever read” !!!! Wow! So of course I must read it too. To be honest though, I am slightly afraid to, due to the subject matter… death of your child, and wouldn’t that make for rather voyeuristic reading. I’ve never shied away form the harrowing subject matter before so I must be going through something right now. Il’ll add it to my absurdly long wish list.

    1. Jackie says:

      Ifi, I know you loved ‘Beside the Sea’ so I think you’ll like appreciate this too. The two books are very similar in terms of emotional impact. I suppose it is a bit voyeuristic, but it doesn’t feel shady, as books with this subject matter often do. The writing is so good that it actually feels refreshing to read something so honest. You probably will hold your breath when reading several sections of the book though….

  2. Sandy says:

    Seeing a review like this from you is pretty compelling, but I think I’d be terrified that it would pull me under!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, It does pull you under, but then lifts you up again. The subject matter is disturbing in places, but I think it is worth it. I can see why it might be too much for some though. It is scary stuff.

  3. Wow! I hadn’t been drawn to this book but seeing how moved and impressed you are, and knowing that you are the mother of sons, has made this a must-read.

    1. Jackie says:

      Fleur, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

  4. stujallen says:

    this has passed me by ,actually it won the prix goncourt de la nouvelle not the main prize but one for début novel ,Jenni french art of war won the main prize in 2011 and is being translated at the moment ,I will probably read this four and half is a good score from you ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, Thanks for pointing out that it won the award for the debut novel. I didn’t realise that as the blurb was a bit misleading :-( I’ll have to read through both lists!

  5. Tom Cunliffe says:

    I would find that book too harrowing to read and I admire your ability to take such sustained sorrow. Somehow it’s easier to bear in fiction. A sensitive review which informs me well about the book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Tom, Thank you for the kind words.

  6. Caroline says:

    I was tempted to get this when I saw the French book but then I was not sure. I’m glad for the review, I know what to expect. It sounds quite harrowing.

  7. Sherly says:

    I think this book “son” let me feel very deep, let me from another level deep awareness of a father, a mother’s love is exquisite, her performance in always will take care of children in every time he had a fever, although very reluctant to massage for your child and father but he could do well, just like his father has a deep emotional but not easily expressed. I love this book, I want to from now on I will respect every father. At the same time also more love our parents


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