2013 Books in Translation Other Prizes

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.

2009 Booker Prize Recommended books

How to Paint a Dead Man – Sarah Hall

Long listed for the Booker Prize 2009

The great thing about reading the Booker long list is that I read books I would never normally pick up and am occasionally rewarded by finding a gem like this. I shouldn’t have liked this book – it has virtually no plot and has whole chapters about a person who paints bottles. It sounds like the sort of book I’d run a mile from, but for some reason I loved it!

I was transfixed from the first page. The heart-breaking emotions of a woman who has lost her twin brother affected me straight away. I think I had the tissues out within a few pages and it is so rare for me to be moved by a book that I knew this was going to be something special.

The second chapter introduces the life of an Italian painter, and while I found this section the weakest of the three, it was an important lull in the heightened emotions of the surrounding sections.

The final scene describes the father of the twins and his battle for survival after he becomes trapped in the hills. The book weaves together these three separate scenes, and that is all they are really, exceptionally well. There is no plot – just glimpses into the lives of these three characters.

I don’t know how this book managed to grip me from beginning to end when so many seemingly similar books have failed. I can only assume that Sarah Hall has an outstanding talent, or is perfectly in tune with my fears and emotions.

Sarah Hall is from Cumbria, so the occasional snippets of dialect may prove difficult for some to understand, but as I spent my teenage years in the Lake District this wasn’t a problem for me.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It deserves it’s place on the Booker long list and I plan to seek out all her previous books.


Have you read any books written by Sarah Hall?

Which one was your favourite?