Thursday, 22 March 2018

We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard

An alluring ode to the ocean

Less than ten pages in to Roxanne Bouchard’s novel We Were the Salt of the Sea I'm consulting Google Maps to locate the Gaspe Peninsular, the setting of this new crime thriller. Turns out Gaspe is an outlying region of Eastern Quebec at the mouth of the mighty St Lawrence river on which sits both Montreal and Quebec City and what an enigmatic setting it turns out to be curtesy of Bouchard's lyrical pen.

We Were the Salt of the Sea is Bouchard’s fifth novel though the first to be translated from French into English. Translation duties fall to the capable hands of Canadian resident francophile David Warriner. 

The novel concerns Montrealer Catherine Day who arrives in Gaspe in search of the truth. Catherine is on a personal voyage of discovery to understand more about her birth mother by immersing herself in the town and the community her mother called home. 

Early action comes in the form of a woman's body dredged up in a fisherman’s net. The body is that of Marie Garant, a nomadic and elusive sailor known to all in the town as a mysterious beauty. So begins the crime aspect of the story. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Morales arrives on the scene with a bizarre back story about moving to Montreal from Mexico city which could have been more fully developed. In any case the investigation itself proves to be more of a side story to Catherine’s self discovery which is more interesting. 

Catherine meets the town’s inhabitants in cafes and along the wharf and almost one by one they reveal increasingly tantalising knowledge which Catherine soaks up like a briny sponge. She is at once in awe of the sea and afraid of the secrets it conceals as the truth ebbs and flows like the tide. The novel is clearly well researched, Bouchard herself lives in Quebec and learned to sail on the St Lawrence, but at times begs the question; when does authenticity just get in the way of the story? Bouchard’s attempt to capture the quebecois dialect is at times distracting, at least when translated into English, and wouldn’t have been missed if toned down a little.

At its best We Were the Salt of the Sea is an alluring ode to the ocean and to the secrets that lay beneath the waves. As a crime novel it lacks pace but as a novel about self discovery it is more successful.   
We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard and translated by David Warriner published by Orenda Books, 300 pages.     

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