The Review: The Breakwater House, Pascale Quiviger

The Breakwater House

Book Review: Breakwater House, Pascale Quiviger

Book Review: Breakwater House, Pascale Quiviger

by Pascale Quiviger
House of Anansi
978-0-88784-230-6
$22.95

Reviewed by U of T Staff, James Bell

I’ve always been attracted to the fantastic in my reading: the realism of Little House on the Prairie or even the escapist but grounded-in-reality Hardy Boys are not for me.  First comic books, then science fiction and fantasy, and later Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magic realism and the surreal landscapes of Richard Brautigan captured my imagination.  I would have loved to have a mother like Aurore in The Breakwater House, who doesn’t know from where she herself came, and so tells her daughter tall tales about her origins.

Suzanne, an upper middle class Parisian, gives birth to Claire.  Five days later Lucie is born to Aurore, a shopgirl who struggles to make ends meet.  In the park where their mothers take them in their strollers, and at school, the girls form a lifelong bond that bridges their class differences as well as the reticence of their mothers.  Claire’s mother is proper and reserved, Lucie’s mother flighty and bohemian, but even they come to understand and appreciate each other through the medium of their daughters’ unflinching devotion.

Aurore, an orphan, invents a family history for Lucie, who develops an artistic soul and her own talent for storytelling; Claire, as constant companion to Lucie, is exposed to Aurore’s stories as well.  In one tale, Aurore ascribes Lucie’s red hair to her Irish Canadian grandmother, a free spirit who seems to converse with nature, appears in more than one place at the same time, has picked up French without being taught, and is the soul survivor of a family mistrusted for their suspected congregation with the devil.  As Lucie grows older, however, she begins to tire of her mother’s stories, longing to hear one morsel of truth from her.  Instead, on Lucie’s fifteenth birthday, her mother tells her one last story, as fantastic as any she’s told before, and then leaves forever.  This departure marks a new beginning for Lucie, who moves in with Claire and her family.

The novel actually opens with a long sequence in which an unnamed woman finds a remote beach house near the town of Breakwater, a house with no electricity, no phone, but a wonderful garden and an old woman who answers the knock on her gate with just two words: “of course.”  She buys the house impulsively, but when she moves in odd things begin happening: time seems to pass differently in the house, the path from the town to the beach vanishes, and a little girl named Odysee appears.  Is this like one of Aurore’s fantastic stories, the hallucinations of a troubled mind, or do ghosts really exist?

Quiviger ties the different threads of the narrative together masterfully, while creating memorable characters both real and imagined.  Five strong women are brought to life with poetic prose that is a pleasure to read.  The Breakwater House reminds me of D.M. Thomas’ The White Hotel, because of its storylines that gradually converge to illuminate the novel’s opening, a setting in which the reader is dropped unprepared and uninformed.  Follow the story to its conclusion, which brings you back to the beginning, and you’ll be rewarded.
Pascale Quiviger’s first novel, The Perfect Circle, was shortlisted for the 2006 Giller Prize and won the Governor General’s Literary Award.

Buy The Breakwater House now!

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UofT Bookstore: 5 Books on My Night Stand

U of T Bookstore Staff have been asked which books are on their nightstand at this moment.

Ceri Nelmes:

  1. eaarth, Bill McKibben : getting ready for The Reading Series event April 9, 2010
  2. Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood for the same U of T Bookstore event
  3. Year of Finding Memory, Judy Fong Bates for the May 13th Reading Series event
  4. Happily Ever After Marriage, Sarah Hampson for the May Reading Series event
  5. Darwin’s Bastards, selected and edited by Zsuzi Gartner from our Review Magazine

New Event Calendar

Spring is in the air and school is almost over.

New books are coming out for the spring season and there are lots of interesting things happening at the Bookstore.

And what better way to stay up to date and organized than with a calendar! Check out the new event calendar on the University of Toronto Bookstore website.

Annual University of Toronto Creative Writing Showcase

Tomorrow is the Annual University of Toronto Creative Writing Showcase hosted by The Graduate Studies Creative Writing Mentorship Program. It will be held at the Jackman Humanities Building in Room 100 from 8-10pm.

For more information about the event please visit the News & Events website for the English Department.

The evening will feature Graduates Brooke Lockyer and Andrew MacDonald and their mentors Catherine Bush and Michael Winter.

To stay up to date with book events make sure to check out the display window outside of the Great Hall at the UofT Bookstore.