Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Breakwater House

I'm sick of working on my electronic periodical indexes assignment so I'm reviewing The Breakwater House by Pascale Quiviger.

This book is beautifully written, and the translation is flawless. I mention this because whenever I see that I'm reading something in translation, I tend to wince; nothing interferes with a reading experience like a bad translation.

I was a little wary after the first few pages, which describe a woman finding and buying a house and then mysteriously being unable to photograph it properly, or track down the previous owner, or give directions that allow other people to visit her. In my experience, this type of non-linear plotting is sometimes an excuse for an author to indulge her poetic urges without regard for logic or story. And I like a story. Happily, there is one, or several, and they are all quite captivating, despite a certain non-linearity. The characters, mostly women, are wonderful: Lucie and Claire, two little girls who meet in infancy and grow into a fiercely close friendship: Aurore, Lucie's mother, colourful, bohemian, passionate: Suzanne, Claire's mother, stoically proper and affluent: and various ancestors that lead to Lucie's present story, wherein the confusion and fragmentation is actually a completely understandable response to a crippling, logic-destroying grief.

The writing is densely textured with striking images: a woman's stomach after childbirth "retreats slowly, like a tide, without making a sound. It looks like an unmade bed, a deserted backstage, a painting under restoration...A shawl for the long winter nights." A mother holds her child, the "imponderable mass of her sated sleep." There are sad, cock-eyed moments of humour -- Aurore gives Claire a black doll, which she adores, dresses in pink and sleeps with every night, whereupon her discomfited mother suggests that "Mélanie ought to become the other dolls' cleaning lady." When her husband's grandmother thrice survives the night when doctor's have declared her death imminent, Suzanne keeps calling priest and Claire "questions her about the risk of overdosing on last rites."

A slight magical mist surrounds much of the narrative, yet the depiction of female friendships is letter-perfect. The hyperbolic and mythic nature of some of the events does not mute or negate the emotions of the characters. The narrative is threaded through with grief, but the overall tone is of healing. This is an intriguing book by a wonderful writer.

8 comments:

Amber said...

I need to do more reading. Clearly. Seriously, seriously more reading. Sounds like a great book!

Patti Murphy said...

Wow. You write beautifully too. Makes me want to read this, even though it would challenge my little brain.

I'm looking forward to reading a book by you some day and then I can say, "Well, I knew Allison when she was working on this horrible periodical assignment..." Actually, it would be since Grade 10, but sharing reminiscences with 'outsiders' during this period of time is verboten. Deal?

Julie said...

wow, i agree with patti. what a wonderfully writen review. you should be paid for these things. i want to go and read the book now. i look forward to your next review!

NoisyBluebird said...

You made me feel floaty :). Lovely review, I'll have to put this one on my teetering nightstand pile. Thanks!

Pam said...

Nicely reviewed. I am liking the sound of this book and will add it to my wish-list. You describe the writing well and lay out the story in a way that draws me in. Thanks!

KuKd Chick said...

Thanks for this review - I love it (the way you've written the review, that is) - maybe you should compile a book of reviews? :-) Anyway the book sounds worth reading. Far more interesting than the "period index" thing or whatever it was you were working on before.

theycallmejane said...

I love book recommendations from people who REALLY enjoy reading - and reading the good stuff, not fluff. This is a great review (honest, real) and I'm putting this on my list! Thank you!

Shan said...

Great review. Now I really want to read this book.