I’m delighted to be co-hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard, translated by David Warriner, and to share my review of this fascinating literary crime novel. Do check out the review by my co-host Kirsty at Curious Ginger Cat. You will also find some wonderful reviews of the book at previous stops on the tour (see tour schedule at the bottom of this post).
About the Book
As Montrealer Catherine Day sets foot in a remote fishing village and starts asking around about her birth mother, the body of a woman dredges up in a fisherman’s nets. Not just any woman, though: Marie Garant, an elusive, nomadic sailor and unbridled beauty who once tied many a man’s heart in knots. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Morales, newly drafted to the area from the suburbs of Montreal, barely has time to unpack his suitcase before he’s thrown into the deep end of the investigation.
On Quebec’s outlying Gaspé Peninsula, the truth can be slippery, especially down on the fishermen’s wharves. Interviews drift into idle chit-chat, evidence floats off with the tide and the truth lingers in murky waters. It’s enough to make DS Morales reach straight for a large whisky…
Format: ebook, paperback (300 pp.) Publisher: Orenda Books
Published: 28th February 2018 Genre: Literary Fiction, Crime
Find We Were the Salt of the Sea on Goodreads
‘You go to sea because you’re a drifter among others and you only feel at home in the silence of the wind.’
Although the reader never meets Marie Garant in life, her vibrant presence pervades the book because of the impact she had on so many of the inhabitants of the Gaspé. Even in death, she is the invisible force which drives events.
The author does a brilliant job of conveying the tight-knit, almost claustrophobic atmosphere of the small fishing community. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone else, their daily routines, their histories…their secrets. Although there are strong bonds of friendship and family, the most powerful common bond is that of the sea. It’s the villagers’ livelihood, their food source, their recreation, their awareness of time even – not just the change of seasons but the rhythm of passing of time. ‘He waited for two waves to go by, time enough for the sea to keep washing gently over the shore, erasing the memories in the sand.’ The sea is their constant companion and frequently, as it turns out, their implacable enemy robbing the community of many souls over the years.
‘They’re always harping on about people being the salt of the earth….Well, doesn’t that make us mariners the salt of the sea?’
The sea is used as a metaphor for life, for emotional experience, for the search for fulfilment. ‘She’s the wave that drags you away from shore and then carries you home. A whirlpool of indecisiveness, hypnotising, holding you captive. Until the day she chooses you. I suppose that’s what passion is…a groundswell that sweeps you up and carries you further out than you thought, then washes you up on the hard sand like an old fool.’
There is wonderful descriptive writing about the sea and the translator, David Warriner, has done a superb job of retaining the lyrical quality of Roxanne Bouchard’s writing. Some of the characters have distinctive modes of speech (“Christ in a chalice”) and, at times, I found the dialogue didn’t flow quite as naturally as the rest of the writing. However, I loved some of the imaginative descriptions such as this one as Catherine sits on the wharf watching the fishing boats tied up there. ‘They were dozing there empty, gently rocking to the rhythm of the waves, snoring against the wharf. They barely raised an eyelid when I arrived. They didn’t care. Sighing, they slipped back into slumber, like fat, lazy cats sinking into the great blue cushion of water.’ Isn’t that simply brilliant?
Tasked with investigating the death of Marie Garant, Sergeant Morales, newly transferred from the city, encounters a wall of silence. He begins to question his relationship with his absent wife, finding himself drawn to Catherine, another outsider who is on her own quest for answers. Faced with prevarication and obfuscation, Morales starts to wonder whether he still has what it takes to unravel the mystery of Marie Garant’s life and death.
I really enjoyed We Were the Salt of the Sea, not just for the intriguing mystery at the heart of the book but for the wonderful, imaginative writing. I would love to see other books by Roxanne Bouchard translated into English.
I received an advance reader copy courtesy of publishers Orenda Books in return for an honest and unbiased review.
In three words: Lyrical, suspenseful, mystery
Try something similar…The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey (click here to read my review)
About the Author
Ten years or so ago, Roxanne Bouchard decided it was time she found her sea legs. So she learned to sail, first on the St Lawrence River, before taking to the open waters off the Gaspé Peninsula. The local fishermen soon invited her aboard to reel in their lobster nets, and Roxanne saw for herself that the sunrise over Bonaventure never lies. We Were the Salt of the Sea is her fifth novel, and her first to be translated into English. She lives in Quebec.
Connect with Roxanne
About the Translator
David Warriner translates from French and nurtures a healthy passion for Franco, Nordic and British crime fiction. Growing up in deepest Yorkshire, he developed incurable Francophilia at an early age. Emerging from Oxford with a modern languages degree, he narrowly escaped the graduate rat race by hopping on a plane to Canada – and never looked back. More than a decade into a high-powered translation career, he listened to his heart and turned his hand again to the delicate art of literary translations. David has lived in France and Quebec, and now calls beautiful British Colombia home.