Home > 2000, 21st Century, Beach and Public Transports Books, Claudel Philippe, French Literature, Highly Recommended, Novella > Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel – Superb and surprising

Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel – Superb and surprising

Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel (2005) Original French title: La petite fille de Monsieur Linh

Before writing anything about Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel, let’s talk about the French and English titles. In French, it is La petite fille de Monsieur Linh. Since there is no hyphen between “petite” and “fille”, it means Monsieur Linh’s little girl and not Monsieur Linh’s granddaughter. The English publisher chose Monsieur Linh and His Child and I wonder why they picked “child” instead of “little girl”. But back to the book.

Monsieur Linh is an immigrant from Vietnam, probably one of the boat people. We never know exactly where he comes from. He left his home after his family was attacked. He’s an old man and he’s disoriented by his journey. He arrives in France and everything is strange: the language, the food, the city, the smells. He is sent to a refugee center where there are other families from his country. An interpreter comes from time to time to talk to him and help him out with the administrative duties.

He settles into a routine, goes to the park nearby and becomes friends with a widower, Monsieur Bark. They can’t talk to each other with words because one is a native French speaker and the other only knows his mother tongue. But somehow, they speak the same language of sadness and loneliness. Monsieur Linh has left his country and his family is dead. Monsieur Bark mourns his wife and doesn’t have any children. Their common need for company brings them together on this bench morning after morning. Somehow, they communicate and bring each other some much needed warmth.

All along the text, Monsieur Linh has his little girl with him. He travelled with her, never left her alone and he dotes on her. She’s his link to his country, to his past and his family.

La petite fille de Monsieur Linh is a perfect novella, as striking as Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressman-Taylor although their theme is different. They have the same way of building a story up to an unimaginable denouement. And in both books, the clues that lead to the ending are scattered along the pages, the reader just overlooks them. The construction of this tale is perfectly executed.

The other outstanding quality of Claudel’s novella is his compassionate tone. We are in Monsieur Linh’s head and we witness his puzzlement with his new life. He seems to have arrived in Calais or Dunkirk. He’s cold, the city smells, there are a lot of automobiles everywhere. The food is strange, except when his fellow refugees feed him at the center. He doesn’t know what to do anymore and his only goal in life is to take care of his little girl. Although he’s traumatized by the war and his journey to France, he won’t let go because she needs him.

Philippe Claudel imagines Monsieur Linh’s feeling and makes the reader “experience” the pain of being a war refugee. It means leaving a country without preparation and without a real will to emigrate. It’s not a choice, it is imposed on him by dreadful circumstances. The reader feels empathy for these refugees.

I remember the arrival of boat people refugees when I was a child. For us, it meant changing from a tall grumpy French dentist with huge paws and no patience for children fears to a tiny Vietnamese dentist with agile embroiderer hands and a calming presence. I can tell you that his customer base grew quickly.

Not surprisingly, La petite fille de Monsieur Linh is taught in middle school. It’s short, easy to read and has obvious qualities to build the character of tomorrow’s citizen.

Very highly recommended. Lisa also reviewed it here.

PS: Sorry to be blunt, but the cover of the English edition is ugly. There’s no other word for it.

  1. January 2, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    I was looking at this author’s books in English just yesterday.


    • January 2, 2020 at 4:28 pm

      Great minds think alike. Go for this one.


      • January 2, 2020 at 4:38 pm

        I have a couple of his left unread on the shelf so I’ll read those first. That’s how I roll these days.


        • January 2, 2020 at 4:39 pm

          Sure. I thought you were looking at his book at a bookstore and still had the choice of the title.


          • January 2, 2020 at 9:32 pm

            It’s been a long time since I went to a bookshop.


            • January 3, 2020 at 9:55 am

              Ah, yes, you’re tackling the TBR.


  2. January 2, 2020 at 5:13 pm

    Agreed. The English cover is dreadful and I wonder about the translation of the title? I’ve read a couple of Claudels and I did find them a little bleak – maybe this one is less so? Or maybe not…


    • January 3, 2020 at 9:43 am

      I don’t understand the difference about the translation. Is it because “little girl” could hint at pedophilia while “his child” puts the relationship between the man and the girl in the right direction?

      I’ve read one other book by him, Grey Souls. I found it bleak and didn’t go for another one until Monsieur Linh. This one isn’t bleak. It’s sad and hopeful.

      Liked by 1 person

      • January 3, 2020 at 11:33 am

        I think Grey Souls was one of the ones I read. I certainly never felt the need to return to him after my last reads!


  3. January 2, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    Intrigued by the “surprising” bit but cautious about the moralizing tone I’m starting to smell from his books. I read Impardonnables and there was one short story about refugees coming by boat; it was quite short and original that it stuck with me. This one, not so sure… Have you read Le Rapport Brodeck? I started it, thought it was humorous but for some reason abandoned it.


    • January 3, 2020 at 9:44 am

      No moralizing tone in this one, I guarantee it.

      I haven’t read Le rapport Brodeck, only Les Ames grises. It was too bleak for my taste.


  4. January 2, 2020 at 8:43 pm

    You’re right about the English cover for this. It’s pretty awful, especially given your impressions of the novella. I like what I’ve seen of the films Claudel has written and directed (I’ve Loved You So Long), but I’m less familiar with his books. From what I know of his films, he seems to be a writer who shows empathy and compassion for his characters, irrespective of their situations. It sounds as if these qualities are on display here too.


    • January 3, 2020 at 9:47 am

      Surely this cover is a random picture, the person who chose it never read the book.

      I haven’t seen Claudel’s films but yes, he has empathy and compassion for his characters. I think you’d like it.


  5. January 2, 2020 at 9:32 pm

    This sounds lovely! I do like a novella. Like Jacqui, I’m familiar with Claudel’s films but I’ve not read anything he’s written. This sounds a good place to start. I agree, I wish the English publisher had kept the French cover.


    • January 3, 2020 at 9:50 am

      I feel it’s a strong candidate for a novella-a-day next May 🙂

      This cover !!!! I tend to put French and English covers of books in my posts because they often show quite a different way of marketing the same book. Sometimes I think “how can they represent the same book?”

      Liked by 1 person

      • January 3, 2020 at 12:07 pm

        It definitely is 😊

        I do wonder if marketing departments have even read the book sometimes, the covers they create can be so at odds with the story…


        • January 3, 2020 at 7:33 pm

          I almost always like French covers better but it may just mean that French marketers are good: I’m their target and I respond to their covers favorably. Tout va pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes!

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Vishy
    January 2, 2020 at 11:15 pm

    Wonderful review, Emma! I don’t know why they modified the title in the translation. I read the graphic novel adaptation of Philippe Claudel’s Brodeck’s Report sometime back and liked it. From your review, this book looks wonderful. Will add it to my TBR. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


    • January 3, 2020 at 9:53 am

      Maybe “his child” is less ambiguous than “little girl”: the relationship between Monsieur Linh and the baby is immediately set straight: it’s a parenting situation.
      But then, why not say “baby” instead of “child”?

      I think you’d like this one. It’s better to read it in one sitting, which is totally possible. It’s very short.


  7. January 3, 2020 at 2:55 am

    Thanks for the mention, Emma, I think we are of one mind about this wonderful book, a classic of its kind.


    • January 3, 2020 at 9:54 am

      Yes we are. And I’m glad it’s on school syllabus.


  8. January 3, 2020 at 4:22 pm

    I do have another word for the English cover: cheap! I wasn’t around until the mid-1980s, so the history of the the boat people speaks less directly to me. I very much like what you write about the two men’s silent companionship, I’ll put the book on my “shopping list” for my next trip to the library. I’ve never read anything by Philippe Claudel.


    • January 3, 2020 at 7:48 pm

      It’s worth reading, really. Preferably in one sitting. Let me know what you thought about it. (And the ending!!)


  9. Di
    January 4, 2020 at 12:58 am

    I’ve never heard about this book, but your blog post makes me curious now, as I’m Vietnamese.
    Curious not entirely in a good way.


    • January 4, 2020 at 8:08 am

      Hello and welcome to Book Around the Corner.

      I don’t think there’s anything you’d find offensive in this book, but I’m not Vietnamese.

      I’d love to hear your thoughts about it and I hope that you read it as I’d like to have your perspective on it. If you read it (it’s very short), please come back here either to comment or give me the link to your review.


      • Di
        January 6, 2020 at 12:49 am

        Hi 😀
        I’ll see if I can find it anywhere.
        I don’t really buy books anymore, so it depends on whether local libraries has it.
        I wasn’t thinking it would be offensive, but more like “erm that way of thinking is not Vietnamese at all”, which is what I thought when reading The Sympathiser, written by a Vietnamese American author.


        • January 7, 2020 at 11:13 pm

          Ah, ok.
          The fact that Monsieur Linh is Vietnamese is irrelevant. Claudel never enters the mind of a Vietnamese, he enters the mind of a migrant. He needed the man to be from somewhere but that’s all. There aren’t many cultural references except the fact that this man comes in a new country whose world is strange to him.


  10. buriedinprint
    May 21, 2020 at 3:26 pm

    I’m visiting via Madame Bibi’s post about this one for NADIM; it definitely sounds like a satisfying story and how interesting that it’s taught in schools. (Sidenote, do you know the poster above? It looks like a potentially problematic message that should have been caught in a filter at some point.) Looking forward to following your reading!


    • May 22, 2020 at 12:45 pm

      It’s a lovely and surprising book.

      Thanks for pointing out the spam comment, I’ll delete it.


  1. May 7, 2020 at 7:31 am
  2. December 28, 2020 at 4:32 pm

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