Andrée Michaud: Boundary

I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and thought the writing was beautiful (in places), but I thought it tried to do too many things at once: to be serious highbrow lit-fic, and a coming-of-age novel, and a murder mystery, and a love story: in the end it failed on many of these fronts, despite the author's obvious talent and ambition.

I haven't read much Francophone Canadian fiction, so I thought I'd give this prize-winner a chance, and I don't regret reading it, but I probably won't return to it again.

The book is set in 1967 and revolves around a double-murder of two teenage girls deep in the forests of Main, right on the Canadian border. The tragedy throws the bilingual township of Boundary/Bondrée into disarray, with neighbors accusing neighbors and more and more dirt becoming unearthed before the story is finally over.

The storyline is divided into three points of view: first-person (narrated by a twelve-year-old girl named Andrée), third-person limited (focusing on the detective investigating the murder case, Stan Michaud--> note the similarity of the two names to the author!), and another third-person limited (a rare glimpse into the mind of the murderer, whose name is not revealed until the very end).

Another interesting thing that I thought totally did NOT work for the suspense/mystery aspect of the book (though I've no problem with it otherwise), is that it's written almost entirely without dialogue. There are occasional bits of speech reported on by other characters (in italics), but this is rare; for the most part the plot meanders through 330 pages of pure description, and this may or may not work for you depending on what you're expecting to get out of this book.

To give a little taste of the beauty of the writing (captured, I hope, faithfully by the Montreal-based translator Donald Winkler), here's a little "moment of being" related by the detective Stan Michaud about his childhood:

"As far as he could remember August had been his favourite month, a month of yellow plentitude, when the heat did not scorch. His most vivid memory went back to a late August day, a memory beautiful as a mirage. He'd found himself alone in the middle of a field near a heavy-branched apple tree, surrounded by golden hay, and that image represented all that was perfect and true. Nothing could be excised from that moment, or added to it. Everything was there: solitude, silence, the smell of hay and apples, the day's veiled hue, together with a sense of freedom, not the freedom of movement he enjoyed, nor the sense of endless space in the prospect across the field, but a freedom embodied in his perfect fusion with time, his serene understanding of that place, his awareness of a moment that nothing, no misfortune and no impediment, could ever take away from him. If one were to ask him who he was and what was his ideal, he'd have no choice but to describe that scene, which, fleeting as it was, represented all the beauty that could exist in the world. It was not happiness, but fullness, that was the only word that came to his mind, and it seemed to him that the quintessence of his entire self had been contained in those few moments."

This book has also introduced me to a publishing house that was new to me: the Ontario-based Biblioasis, who specialize in publishing Canadian literature in translation (from the French, as well as from various indigenous languages), but also include authors from Europe, Africa and Latin America.