The Son by Michel Rostain


We’ve never had a child, we have them forever. (Marina Tsvetaïeva)

Who can judge a father’s memoir, a story of losing an only child to meningitis? No one. And I’m almost reluctant to write a review of any sort.

Despite the blurb that it is not a a book about death, but that it’s a book about life, Michel Rostain’s story, The Son, is devastatingly sad. The shocking and sudden circumstances in which his 21 year old son, Lion, died – feeling unwell for a few days, a fever, then death – are raw, chaotic and incomprehensible.

Rostain tells his story from the perspective of Lion, looking down (?), looking back. It eases the trauma slightly – a father’s grief, laid completely bare, may have been too much for me to read but through Lion’s lens, the raggedness of grief is smoothed, if only a little.

“Dad, besieged by doubts and feelings of remorse. He should have… The irreversible punctuation of grief, when terrible guilt gets on with its work. That’s what they call eternal regret.”

I was reminded of a passage from A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara when I was reading this book.

“…when your child dies, you feel everything you’d expect to feel, feelings so well-documented by so many others that I won’t even bother to list them here, except to say that everything that’s written about mourning is all them same, and it’s all the same for a reason – because there is no real deviation from the text. Sometimes you feel more of one thing and less of another, and sometimes you feel out of order… But the sensations are always the same. But here’s what no one says – when it’s your child, a part of you, a very tiny but nonetheless unignorable part of you, also feels relief. Because finally, the moment you’ve been expecting, been dreading, been preparing yourself for since the day you became a parent, has come. Ah, you tell yourself, it’s arrived. Here it is. And after that, you have nothing to fear again.”

Within context, Yanagihara was talking about the worst possible thing that can happen to a parent – it’s gut-wrenching reading, as is The Son.

Rostain’s acknowledgements at the end of the book are brief but heartfelt, opening with what I found to be one of the toughest passages –

‘The very evening our son died, Daniel Michel called me: “I don’t know whether, on a day like this, you’re ready to hear what I want to tell you, but a few years ago I experienced the same horror, this total despair. I want to tell you: you can live with it.”‘

Yes, but how? How? I can’t even imagine.


5 responses

  1. That passage from Yanagihara. It’s one that I noted. Extraordinary. At first with that section in first person voice from Harold, I wondered ‘what’s she doing here? Why the change in voice?’ Then a page or so later it became clear. To express those things, from that point of interiority. Sorry, not on topic for the book you are talking about above, but still, needed to mention. Lion: interesting name. Wonder if it was lion in English or lion as translated meaning, say from Arslan in Turkish.

    Your final question, I don’t know how people do but they do. I’m reminded of the mother of a young woman killed at Port Arthur. She said simply her life stopped that day and she has never been the same, never will, her heart is broken. This was years later. I can’t imagine either. The worst possible thing.

    • I thought exactly the same thing about the Harold section in A Little Life – what? Hang on… once I understood that she’d switched POV I went back and read again in closer detail. Not sure that I’ll ever forget the sentiments in that passage – Harold’s sections on grief and parenting were extraordinary, which is why I was thinking about them when I read this book. And from what I can tell, the son’s name was Lion (in English).

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