By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Category: Literary Fiction
Author: Dominique Fortier
Translator: Sheila Fischman
Format: Trade Paperback, 299 pages
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Pub Date: January 7, 2014
Summary from Publisher:
This second work from critically acclaimed Quebec novelist Dominique Fortier, whose debut was shortlisted for a Governor General’s Award in both French and English, is an enthralling shell-game of a novel. Composed of three stories linked by theme and image, it brings alive a captivating cast of characters both historical and fictional. For lovers of boldly original literary fiction such as David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, and Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. In Wonder past and present, science and emotion, speak to each other to create a brilliant whole from three distinct parts. Readers are swept from a devastating volcanic eruption in 1902 to today’s Montreal by way of a scientific love story in Victorian England. Along the way we follow Baptiste Cyparis, “The Man who Lived Through Doomsday,” who traveled the length and breadth of the United States with Barnum & Bailey’s circus, and meet Edward Love, the mathematician who discovered the mysterious waves that shake the earth. This luminous novel confirms Fortier as both a first-rate storyteller and as a master stylist. From the Chapters-Indigo website.
Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet:
Wonder by Dominique Fortier is a storytelling delight, both in its imaginative scope and its absurdity, yet thoughtful depth. The is divided into separate parts: Monsters and Marvels, Harmony of the Spheres, and Love Waves, which together form a narrative that will carry its reader to visual and thoughtful depths.
While the book opens to a formal and opulent narrative, the ease in which the reader will connect the story through its main characters will slowly emerge from the interesting, comical, yet almost sad, and grotesque plot movements. In Monsters and Marvels, we’re introduced to the unfortunate place which Baptiste, a man of various trades, begins as an impersonating socialite on the eve of Carnival in Saint-Pierre where for one evening, the roles between the rich and its servants are reversed as a testament to Carnival’s rebellious joviality and re-enactment of play. Baptiste, who has renamed himself on various occasions, in his nomadic nature, ends up in an unlikely place after a gallant move to defend a prostitute, which without even a graceful thank you, becomes both a form of suffering and salvation.
In the apocalyptic fate of Mount Pelee and its surrounding village, Baptiste, is asked to join a travelling circus in which his “phenomenal” survival, as well as his cultural heritage, both become a palpable form of voyeuristic entertainment. While Baptiste finds some quiet solace in both a woman and her son, his uncontrollable desire becomes both his punishment and demise.
In the Harmony of the Spheres, the style of writing is effortlessly precise as it is poetic. And its characters, Edward and Garance, are an eccentric couple whose giftedness is both superior as it is strange. While the characters’ uniqueness give the story its interest, it’s the same talents that both elucidate an academic frequency and freedom, as it does hinder the characters’ chance at a “normal” life.
In Edward’s case, his mistrust of fiction and compulsion for numbers, equations, and the possibility of solving the essence of life in its most complex, fundamental state, drives Edward to the point of blind obsession and introspective loneliness. Yet, it is in numbers that Edward finds solace and understanding, a gift that carries him through the bewildering secrets that compel him to investigate and quantify.
The Harmony of the Spheres, is in its own way, a puzzle the reader must contemplate, unsolvable until the end, but rather in its reading, a process in the joy of attempting to understand Edward, the character, as much as he attempts to understand theorems.
But, the novel all comes to together in the last part of the book, Love Waves, a story about a young woman and a man, whose serendipitous meeting becomes a quiet courtship based on the comfort of routine and solace. The woman, like the man is unnamed for most of the story, a woman who walks dogs up and down a winter mountain to discover a kindred and mysterious person who leaves rocks under a birch tree in the shape of an Inukshuk. Like play, she responds to each new finding with her own creation and interpretation of rocks. The two eventually meet face-to-face, first unknowingly hostile, and then resolute in simple acts of kindness.
Nature, history, ideas, all become the backdrop in which they meet. Their conversations slowly piece together small hints of their history and their eventual involvement. Like the story’s title, their love and their meeting-of-the-minds seem to lull together as naturally as the tide. The three parts of the book, though in themselves seem disjointed, are rather a microcosm of personal stories that reveal six degrees of separation. While Fortier’s writing is exquisitely lyrical, her characters are rich and eccentric, hidden within them a multitude of history and connection.
The book, Wonder, is a literary specimen that will coerce readers to read actively and carefully, as well as wonder quietly its outcome.
Characters: 4 stars
Pacing: 3 stars
Cover Design: 3.5 stars
Plot: 3.5 stars
A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of McClelland & Stewart for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author:
DOMINIQUE FORTIER was born in 1972. She holds a Ph.D. in literature from McGill University and is a respected editor and literary translator. On the Proper Use of Stars, her debut novel, was first published in Quebec in 2008 as Du bon usage des étoiles and was shortlisted for the French language Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Prix des libraires du Québec, the Grand Prix littéraire Archambault, and the Prix Senghor. It is being adapted for the screen by Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria). Dominique lives in Montreal.
-From The Random House of Canada website.
Have you ever read any work by Dominque Fortier? If so, what did you think?
What is the most eccentric character you’ve ever come across in fiction?
What do you think is the purpose of someone like Baptiste Cyparis in being the only human survivor of the eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902?