Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Douglas Notebooks

The Douglas Notebooks / Christine Eddie; translated from the French by Sheila Fischman.
Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane, c2103.
184 p.

This novel is a brief and poetic story, subtitled "a fable". It is a lightly sketched story with some representative characters: a woodsman, a young apothecary, a baby, a teacher and a doctor. These characters are as much defined by their roles as their actual personalities. So perhaps there is a bit of the folktale or fable to be found here.

It's quite lovely though. The writing really is fluid and full of simple beauties, with both dark and radiant experiences set alongside one another. Romain, son of a wealthy family, doesn't seem to fit in with his life; when he is 18 he leaves home to live in the woods, becoming, eventually, known as Douglas Starling. Elena, meanwhile, grows up in a violent home, and when her father (who had murdered her mother in a rage of domestic violence) decides that he is going to trade her to a local grocer's son in exchange for a case of whiskey, she makes her getaway. She meets Romain, renaming him Douglas for the strong, noble trees he admires. They have a brief and wondrous love affair, which results in baby Rose. Rose is brought up by a whole fleet of parental figures, including that teacher and doctor referenced above -- especially after, in a fit of guilt, Douglas leaves the village and seeks his solitude in worldwide travels to remote places, communicating only through lengthy letters to Rose.

The story reveals all of these characters' lives, in light strokes. And while we see Rose growing and the others aging, we are also seeing their isolated backwoods town growing. It expands and finally begins to resemble any other town - there is a shopping centre, more housing, and new roads. As the town becomes unrecognizable, these changes break the spell, they open a gap in the metaphorical thorny hedge which has kept Rose enclosed all these years. 

As the story ends, Rose is now living in the big city studying music, but her father Douglas returns. They bridge their years of separation with Rose simply holding out a book; it's the book her stand-in mother, the teacher, has bound from all the letters he had sent -- the Douglas notebooks of the title. 

It's a simple yet touching story, with a folktale feel and some lovely evocations of place. It's structured in short named sections, with the prose in each section broken up into brief blocks of a page or two. It's as if moments of this story are caught in the light and exposed to the reader. While there doesn't seem to be a deep moral or message to this fable, it was a lovely read that kept me turning pages until the end - I didn't want to put it down and break the mood. I was also charmed by the end, in which Eddie provides the "Credits", a where-are-they-now kind of follow up to all the characters. It fit perfectly with the way the story had unfolded, and was also wryly amusing. 

This was a nice discovery to make, something a little different, and engaging and enjoyable to read on a summer's afternoon.


  1. "It's as if moments of this story are caught in the light and exposed to the reader."
    Beautiful! (Also, I love the sounds of the "credits"!)

    1. The credits are delightful. And it's nice to wrap up the storylines that way.

  2. Lovely review of what sounds like a lovely and engaging tale!

    1. It was lovely, a quirky & mostly charming story.


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