According to the Canadian author John Ralston Saul, “In European tradition, rivers are seen as divisions between peoples. But in Aboriginal tradition, rivers are seen as the glue, the highway, the linkeage between people, not the separation. And that’s the history of Canada: our rivers and lakes were our highways…”. Without Rivers and lakes, Canadians would never have found the sea and what lies beyond the horizons, or for that matter, the beautiful Gaspe Penisula on the southern shores of the St. Laurence river.
The author of this months book discovered the peninsula ten years ago when she took up sailing. It’s where this month’s book is set and all but one of the characters come and go by water to it. The book is “We Were The Salt Of The Sea” by Roxanne Bouchard, published by Orenda Books (www.Orendabooks.co.uk) Last April.
Montreal woman Catherine Day is advised by her doctor to take some much needed time out, so she packs her bags, boards her beloved boat and sets sail up the coast to Caplan on the Gaspe Peninsula. There, according a letter posted in Key West, she’ll find her lost mother, the woman who gave her up for adoption thirty years ago. Shortly after she arrives in the remote fishing village, a body of is found tangled in fishing nets off the coast. It’s Marie Garant, her birth mother. The local police launch an investigation headed by newly arrived former Quebec detective Joaquim Morales, who’s moved to the area at the behest of his artist wife, believing their struggling marriage needs nurturing in the quiet and relaxed tempo of life on the peninsula. But poor Joaquim has literally no time to enjoy the surroundings or sedate pace of life, let alone unpack. As, he is thrust headlong into the investigation to find the cause of Marie Garant’s death, a woman who was even more mysterious in life than in death. As the search for answers by both parties moves forward, helped and hindered by the local characters, Catherine tries to find out more about her mother and where she went on her regular voyages from the safe-haven of Caplan’s harbour and about the identity of her father. Morales like Catherine, is also on a journey of personal discovery . Can they find the answers to their own personal quests and will new love and new starts be the answers?
Numerous other readers have praised Bouchard’s poetic style of writing, and this style is very much apparent from the opening page. I felt it wasn’t so much poetic, but smooth flowing prose like the current of a river, that gradually takes the reader on a journey from start to finish.
On top of that, credit must surely go to David Warriner’s translation, without whose excellent skill, the afore mention flowing prose would have been lost in translation and left the book high and dry on this side of the Atlantic. I did wonder after finishing it – if the characters were actually speaking French or English but written by a francaphone author, as it never says in the book, but assumes the reader automatically knows. According to Wikipedia, French is the primary language of the region, so that answers that.
One of the best things about this book is its characters. If the prose is the current moving the story forward, then the characters are the boats on which the reader is transported. I’ve read numerous books where the story is told by stereotypical cardboard cutout characters, that any writer can half-heartedly fit into the story like a jigsaw piece. But a true storyteller uses unique standout characters who embrace you from your first meeting till your last and this is what you get with the plethora of individual characters in We We The Salt Of The Sea.
As for the two lead characters there are some stereo typical sides to them, Morales, the middle aged detective attempting to deal with his mid-life crisis , marital problems and the investigation. He’s unique in that one really wonders how many Mexican cops there are in Montreal? I did feel for him and the way he was treated by the locals. He also, it appears, will be a recurring character. Maybe he’s supposed to be the main one in this book, although this isn’t really clear. But I understand Bouchard is working on her next book which will also be set is the Gaspie Region and will also feature Morales.
As for Catherine, we see characters like hers popping up regularly in literature. A mid thirties woman ,discovering their wanderlust and the truth behind her estranged mother – is a theme in many books these days. But the real characters are the local fishermen and townsfolk, each one is unique in their own way.
This is Canadian Author Roxanne Bouchard’s (www.roxannebouchard.com) fifth book and the first to be translated into English – her others include Whiskey And Parables, The Slap and Crematorium Circus. She’s also written two essays on Canadian Military and a love monologue for the theatre. She’s a graduate of the University of Montreal and has been teaching literature at Cegep De Jliette a college in the Lanaudiere region of Canada since 1994. Inspiration for the book came ten years ago when Bouchard decided to find her sea legs and learned to sail on the St. Laurence and then the open waters off the Gaspe Peninsula.
So if you are looking for a heart warming book, full of well rounded and loveable characters, then this is the book to upload on your kindle or stow in your carry-on luggage for a great summer read.
Sorry if we’ve been a bit quite at the Library Door for the past month, but we suffered a technical issue behind the door (The Laptop Died). We’re back now and normal service has resumed, with book reviews and blog tours winging their way to you over next couple of months.