MacLehose Press, £12, 130pp. £10.80 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Monsieur Linh and his Child, By Philippe Claudel, trans. Euan Cameron

There is always something almost-recognisable and yet at once unnervingly imprecise about the world of a Philippe Claudel novel; something that makes a reader feel as though he is somewhere real, but not in place with particularity. We don't know its name, we don't know the language spoken, we don't know which precisely is the war that has been ravaging the country across the sea, but it's no great challenge to map it on to any number of potential realities.

Monsieur Linh and His Child is Claudel's third book in English, after Grey Souls and Brodeck's Report, which last year won the the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. This time we enter his world in the company of an elderly man, emerging from the wreckage of a war. He appears in the opening paragraph standing on the afterdeck of a ship, holding a weeks-old baby and a battered suitcase, waiting to dock in a new country, a haven from the devastation of his homeland.

The baby is his granddaughter, child to his son and daughter-in-law, both killed in the conflict. Monsieur Linh himself would have given up were it not for little Sang diû – but he must stay alive in order to protect her. The ship arrives, Monsieur Linh is taken in and given a bed in a dormitory inhabited by other recent arrivals. His fellow refugees mock him for the way he looks after the little girl (he sings her his song, and does what he remembers his wife having done with their son), but at least he has the bed, he has food. He is bewildered and fearful, but he is safe.

Then, wandering his new neighbourhood, Monsieur Linh meets a big, fat man, who introduces himself as Monsieur Bark; they become firm friends, even though they don't understand each other's language. They communicate through gestures, through exchanged photos of their late wives. And yet both are happy with their friendship. So when Monsieur Linh – still clasping the little girl – is taken away from his dorm and placed in a big institution on the other side of the city, issued with two pairs of pyjamas and a blue dressing-gown, his main concern is how to find his way back to his new friend. And then there is a twist, and then there is another twist, both pretty breathtaking (and genuinely unexpected) - but I'll say no more.

Monsieur Linh's story crystallises the experience of being isolated among the mysteries of a place where you have lately arrived, of losing yourself in a dreary mist of loneliness, with little hope of escape, only to find a friend. It is a fable, almost, short and crisp, and its very simplicity is incredibly potent. Euan Cameron's translation manages to maintain that simplicity, that cleanness of prose, immediate and present-tense, while still being resonant and moving. Like all good fables, it conveys the sense of a greater significance beyond itself.

Daniel Hahn is interim co-director of the British Centre for Literary Translation, Norwich

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Arts and Entertainment
The Vienna State Opera
opera
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'
musicLilly Wood and Robin Schulz bag number one single
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
    The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

    The fall of Rome?

    Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
    Glasgow girl made good

    Glasgow girl made good

    Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
    Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

    Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

    Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
    The landscape of my imagination

    The landscape of my imagination

    Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories