a review by Peter McCambridge
“They didn’t hear the rain stop. They didn’t see the rainbow circle the forest.”
I read The Douglas Notebooks all at once. There was something so ephemeral, so whimsical, about this tale that it felt as though it might all disappear if I put the book down. After the lies of the opening have been unravelled, there is something snug and comforting about the blossoming relationship between Romain and Éléna, as with later relationships in the novel. After the lies have been unravelled, that is.
This is a book of crow’s croak and raven’s caw, of black spruce and white pine, and, naturally, of the “tallest, sturdiest, most spectacular of trees” that Douglas Starling is named after. It is a fable in which nature is all around. Like love at its best, nature is grandiose, and Eddie’s characters seem perfectly, enjoyably, in sync with it:
“She asked the humidity to curl her hair even more, asked the sun to colour her cheeks. The river water softened her skin and the light brightened her eyes.”
It is not without its flaws, but in all it is a nicely crafted book that is beautifully written throughout, the tone light but just quirky enough to offer something different, brimming with “unexpected words full of honey.” Douglas, for instance, “unlocks his heart” (nothing unusual or memorable there), “like a window opening slowly onto the sea.” And then, a few lines later: “He dusted off his loneliness.”
Despite the unexpected honey, this is also a world of ruined harvests, bruised arms, orphanages, and worse, of convents, storms, and gossip. A world in which childhoods don’t always smell of “lilacs and pea soup.” A world of darker tomorrows. And of rain and rainbows. ≈
From The Douglas Notebooks
by Christine Eddie
≈ translated by Sheila Fischman (Goose Lane,2013)
From walking along the clump of trees in search of chanterelles or white elderberries, Éléna had domesticated the area surrounding the forest and walked a little more deeply into it each time. She felt nearly at home until, of course, what would happen, happened.
Early on, she’d had a hunch that the forest at Rivière-aux-Oies was inhabited. Although Mercedes had told her that the white man had chased away all those who used to live in the territory, the young girl didn’t believe a word. Certain clues are unmistakable: too-recent paths, entire clumps of blueberries stripped of their fruit, plants trampled by something heavier than a hare or a fox in the spring. Éléna was well aware that she was not alone in being enamoured of the forest. Excited by the call of adventure, she didn’t breathe a word, especially not to Mercedes.
“At all times, but maybe especially in the spring, the tamaracks stretched out with surprising charm. One day, when she was advancing farther than usual towards one of them, Éléna thought she heard the strange and desperate cry of a chorus of mourning doves, but — in the middle of the woods? Or was it the lapping of the river, whose winding course she had not yet been able to locate. Or just the wind, pinned inside a heap of dried leaves? The wind sometimes makes the strangest sounds.”
Eyes peeled, she slowed down before stopping a hundred metres from a clearing. Even the birds had fallen silent. What they were listening to sounded like a revelation, luminous and light. The space was wrapped in ecstasy and disenchantment together. Éléna’s closed eyes misted over despite herself. It lasted an eternity, around seven minutes. She was making the acquaintance of an adagio for clarinet, and dumbfounded, she discovered a heap of points in common with it. ≈