When I was Five I killed Myself (published 1981) was the first novel of Howard Buten, an American living in France who is, as well as a novelist, a clown and a psychologist. The book, whilst not being very well known in his home country, is overwhelmingly popular in France, having sold over a million copies and being quite a cult classic. It was also published under the title Burt, and is told by an eight-year-old boy who has been sent to an institution for some unknown (but apparently most grievous) crime. It was also made into a film in 1991 under the French title ‘Quand j’avais cinq ans je m’ai tué’.

The book provides an interesting view into the mind of a rather confused and frustrated (as well as incredibly intelligent) young boy, not to mention the behaviour of adults towards him. His anger and uncertainty towards the world around him are painfully clear, even when not expressed directly. His vivid imagination coupled with his separation from his family and those who understand him leave him vulnerable, and Buten shows with great grace and elegance the young boy’s difficulty understanding the situation he is in, while evoking anger at the adults who have so clearly failed him when he needs their help and understanding most.

There are some striking similarities with characters like Holden Caulfield (the book has sometimes been referred to as the French Catcher in The Rye), and Jack, the young boy from whose perspective Room is told. Fans of those two books will surely enjoy this one – an interesting and touching novel which will provoke thought and leave a lasting impression.