Papillon by Henri Charrière

I saw a recent movie based on Papillon by Henri Charrière, so I bought the book and read it. It took a long time to finish it because I was busy with other things, but I loved the book and gave it 5 stars. Around half-way through the book it got a bit boring, but it pick up again and I loved reading it.

Henri Charrière was called Papillon due to his butterfly tattoo on his chest. He was convicted in 1931, in Paris, for a murder he did not commit. He received a life sentence in a penal colony of French Guiana. He spent all his time thinking about escaping or trying to escape. He tried many times and this meant he was punished with solitary confinement and reduced rations. In the end he managed to escape and wrote this amazing autobiography. It was published in France in the late 60s, more than 20 years after his escape.

Papillon by Henri Charrière

The book has 13 chapters, one for each notebook he wrote in. It was a nice touch. He talks in the book about his life, but he also talks about other things that happened in the colony, he talks about people of different races, about homosexuality, friendship.

At times the book sounds incredible, but it is interesting. It is very well written and the story flows nicely, it was a delight to read. I enjoyed reading it and I would highly recommend it. It is a bit long, but I think it is worth the effort. Reading about how inmates were treated at the penal colony was fascinating, as it was not all bad, although much of it was. It is also shocking that this penal colony still existed in the 20th century.

Papillon by Henri Charrière

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes
Published by: William Morrow
Year it was published: 2006 (first published in 1969)
Format: Paperback
Genre(s): Memoir
Pages: 544

About the author: Henri Charrière was a convicted murderer chiefly known as the author of Papillon, a hugely successful memoir of his incarceration in and escape from a penal colony on French Guiana.
Website & Social Media Links: –

8 thoughts on “Papillon by Henri Charrière”

  • I read this book over 30 years ago, when I was a student, and remember that I found it fascinating. I wonder whether it might be high time to re-read it, this time in English.

    • What is most surprising is that in the 30s and 40s people were still sent/kept at penal colonies. It looks much more like a 1830s kind of solution.

  • I too have only ever seen the original film version with Steve McQueen and have not read the book. I was aware that the film was based on the true memoir of ‘Papillon’, however I suspect that there are quite a few things in the narrative, which don’t appear in the film version. I am not usually that bothered about reading memoirs, but I might be tempted by this one, as I am intrigued to find out about all those extra snippets of information that I may not have got to see. xx

    • The book is long, so there are lots of details that are too small to be included in a movie, but these details are interesting, and so the book is worth reading. But, as I said, it’s long, so a bit of a commitment. I enjoyed it but it took me a while to finish it.

  • Seeing the original film with Steve McQueen way back in my teens, I had no idea it was based on a memoir. I knew it was supposed to be a true story, but I assumed someone had novelised it. Interesting! I wonder if the film stuck to the book. I don’t remember much about it now except the ending.

    • Books are always different because some things are more poignant when read and some when seen. For example, his descriptions of the homosexuals in prison are impossible to re-create in a movie without being awkward, but they are interesting in the book. What is lovely is how he wrote it and this is why the book is worth reading.

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