Papillon by Henri Charriere- book review
This jail escape adventure is the benchmark for all books
I have read over a thousand books. Without exaggeration this is the best book I have ever read in my life. All of the books I have read since are measured by this benchmark. I read this book when I was in High School and that was over 30 years ago. I don’t remember a lot of it now but I know it was fantastic and enthralling. Once you have read Papillon by Henri Charierre you can also read the next book, which is a follow up called Banco. This is just as good.
This is a story about a man who gets himself in trouble in France and is wrongly charged with murder. He is convicted and sentenced to life on Devils Island. He escapes and starts an adventure right across Europe.
The book vividly describes the wretched existence of criminals exiled to the Devil's Island colony in Cayenne, the daring escapes of its hero and the exotic life he led as a fugitive.
He meets and befriends many people, and is betrayed on many occasions. He has relationships with women too. The book has many twists and turns, much like a good thriller. You are taken on his highs, when he manages to escape from some rotten places. You are taken on lows when things don’t work out and he is captured. Papillon is streetwise and lives off his wits. Some of the things the prisoners do to get food, and to protect themselves and their meagre assets will amaze you. The book is about 10 cm thick so there is plenty to read.
The book was translated from French into English and was then published in 1969. It was an instant worldwide best seller, and has been around for many years now, but a new generation of readers should be able to enjoy it. The book covers a period from 1931 until 1945.
There has been a lot of controversy over whether the book was true or not. Papillon was known as a fairly garrulous story teller. In other words he never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Recently an old man of 104, living in a French nursing home claimed to the press that a lot of the stories were actually about him.
The book ends with Papillon eventually serving out his time and becoming a free man. He died in 1973 and always claimed the book was entirely true. The book was named after the butterfly tattooed on Charriere’s chest. It was turned into a movie starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. The movie is nowhere near as good as the book.
For a complete synopsis on the book before you read it, look it up on Wikipedia.