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Terra Firma

james hörner

this is not the sort of book you slam back in a sitting, enjoying its entertainments and tossing on the "have read" pile. it is a book to be savoured over several sittings, preferably in a quiet, warm, small room. in order that you can give it your full attention. that's the sort of book this is

Terra Firma Christiane Frenette, who won the governor general's award for fiction for Terra Firma, is previously published as a poet. this poetic sensibility bares itself on each page of this, her first novel. her images are vivid, and the tight narrative is compelling.

the narrator asks at one point, "How many images will never be filmed?"; although only 134 pages long, Frenette has filled this book with wonderful images, never relying on clichés to tell this story of loss.

focussing around the disappearance of two teenaged boys who took their raft onto the st. lawrence and never returned, this is a book about coping and healing.

She has decided to have a breakdown. Decided it's better to find a medical term for her life instead of this gaping hold day after day, instead of this absence of everything, always, everywhere.

immediately your mind probably jumps to Russell Banks' "The Sweet Hereafter," to which this book is compared, but this is truly a different creation. Terra Firma is a unique psychological journey, pulling the reader into the text at many points. as well, this is a story of how a community copes, transforming from tragedy:

The arrival of December poses a moral problem for the town's business people and residents. How can they not give in to the frenzy of Christmas? They're uncomfortable at the prospect of decorating store windows or house fronts. The glittering lights, garlands, children's laughter, handshakes, good wishes become so many affronts signifying that you're no longer important, that along with the river the devil has carried you away. As if the town weren't respecting its mourning period to the very end.

i have no idea how this translation stands up against the french original, but it is executed by Sheila Fischman who is an award winner in her own right, and known for her work translating such authors as Roch Carrier.

ultimately, this is a book i feel i would need to read again to fully understand because of the concision and depth of Frenette's prose. it is a book you should acquire and sip slowly.

published by cormorant books
ISBN 1-896951-18-x

james hörner edits canadian content.

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