Sunday, 28 October 2007

Latitudes of Melt by Joan Clark

“Though Aurora rarely spoke of her origins, Tom thought that by filling her wander books with talismanic bits and pieces, she might be celebrating the miracle of having been rescued from the ice.”

Thus a young husband watching his wife record her wanderings around their lighthouse home at Cape Race in Newfoundland. And Aurora’s origins are truly miraculous: in 1912 she was found floating on a piece of ice off the Newfoundland coast, and rescued by two fishermen, who learn on reaching shore of the sinking of the Titanic. Her details are posted at the White Star Office but, unclaimed, she is taken into the family of Francis St Croix and his wife. Aurora is a quiet baby with one blue eye and one brown and white hair. The other local children consider her a changeling, not least because before she has even started school she has ordered a bear from the family home.

Aurora’s story unfolds, told partly in her voice. We learn of her marriage, the arrival of her two children (named Nancy Rose and Stanley Joseph after local shipwrecks), and her need for solitude which leads her to escape from her family from time to time to wander around her old family home. We see her children grow up and start their own wanderings, Nancy to England and Stan to Italy, and their marriages. Finally, Aurora’s grand-daughter, Sheila, makes her own journey to learn of Aurora’s origins and the ill-fated Titanic voyage. Meanwhile the ageing Aurora has again been drawn back to the sea and coast of her childhood, where she creates and tends a fairy garden and watches the stars.

Ice is always a player in these wanderings, a threatening presence. Stan, aware of it throughout his childhood, chooses to make ice his life’s work. There are some lyrical passages about the sight and sound of ice and even the smell of it. Another constant is the folklore of Newfoundland: even though Nancy rejects the story of her mother’s rescue from the ice, she becomes a folklorist, and records the beliefs and crafts of the local people.

The unifying thread, though, is that of wandering. Throughout we are aware of the passage of ships backwards and forwards, the passage of the ice. Stan’s trip to Antarctica reminds of the lines of latitude and longitude, imagined lines on the globe, while the story of Marconi’s message sent from Cornwall to Newfoundland is another imaginary line inscribed on the ocean. Meanwhile, the detailing of family comings and goings, often through letters, create further series of lines, Cape Race to St John’s, to Trepassey, to England, to Ireland . . . while weaving through all the comings and goings, backwards and forwards, is that dotted line of Aurora’s footsteps across the peninsula where she spends all her life.

This is a book of considerable beauty. It spans 80 years effortlessly, the timelines crossing – wanderings again – without confusion: we always know exactly where we are because, lyrical though it may be, it is nonetheless firmly rooted in the everyday, and the lives of the Newfoundlanders whose story it tells. It’s made an excellent start, for me, to the Canadian Book Challenge.

7 comments:

  1. I thought this was a beautiful book also. So glad you enjoyed it, and what a great review!

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  2. I too really enjoyed this book. I liked your comments about wandering as a theme. I don't remember if I picked up on that or not.

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  3. I haven't taken up the Canadian Book Challenge simply because I have so much reading that 'has' to be done I would never complete it, but I do love books of Canadian origin and think that as a country it's produced more than it's fair share of good writers. Here is another one for me to explore and I'll add this to the list straight away. By the way, I'm moving my blog to another server and although I'll cross post on Patternings for a while longer you can now find me permanently at http://web.mac.com/ann163125/Table_Talk/Welcome.html I hope to see you there.

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  4. Hi, just wanted to tell you thanks for visiting my blog. This was a beautiful review. I listed this book for my Canadian Challenge and I'm so excited to read it. Especially since I was born in Newfoundland.

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  5. Lovely review - you put your thoughts so well into words. Maybe I will have to borrow your review when I finish reading Latitudes of Melt. I think it is beautiful so far. Only just over 100 pages in to it.

    I really like getting a feeling for life on the southern shore of Newfoundland.

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  6. Melanie and John, I'm really glad you both enjoyed this book too. It's so nice to be able to share the pleasure of a good novel.

    Ann, Framed and Booklogged, I know this is a book that can look forward to re-reading - when I buy books it's in the expectation that I'll read them more than once.

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  7. This sounds great! I've read a few of Clark's children's books which were excellent. I think I'll add this one to my list.

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