editor's choice



Cyrille said the sea was like a patchwork quilt. Fragments of waves joined together by strands of sunlight. He said the sea would swallow the stories of the world and digest them at its leisure in its cobalt belly before regurgitating only distorted reflections. He said the events of the last few weeks would sink into the darkness of memory.”


ROXANNE BOUCHARD’S WE WERE THE SALT OF THE SEA is proof positive that while beautiful words maketh outstanding books, a good translator is worth his (in this case) weight in gold. The book is faithfully and respectfully translated from its original (Quebec) French by David Warriner, who does a more than sterling job of capturing the nuances and lyricism of Bouchard’s original prose.

Opening in the 1970s, in coastal Canada, where some local fishermen have come to the aid of a young woman in the throes of giving birth, the novel motors forward thirty-three years to 2007, where Montrealer Catherine Day is about to embark on a life-changing journey. Catherine’s search for birth mother Marie Garant leads her to a small fishing village on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula.

From the beginning, Catherine is aware that Marie might not be model mother material. Marie is ‘no woman to get close to’, someone about whom Catherine should not shout if she wants ‘to make any friends’. Unfortunately for Catherine, she isn’t given that choice: her mother is already dead. Enter, Detective Sergeant Joaquin Moralès from Montreal, newly relocated to the area. And in order to discover just why Marie has been killed, Moralès has to hit the ground running in a place where ‘time stands still and things never change’.

We Were the Salt of the Sea is, on one level, a classic detective story; on another, it is a very literary exploration and representation of life in a small coastal village on the Canadian eastern seaboard. It is also about Catherine and Moralès’s burgeoning self-awareness: although both journey to the Peninsula from choice, both find themselves embroiled in situations for which they are unprepared, nonetheless.

The tone and pace of the book remind me of early Alain-Fournier – Bouchard has a similar dexterity and lightness of touch with language, the ability to make the seemingly otherwise unremarkable just, well, sing. It’s all credit to Warriner that this isn’t lost in translation and that we want to find out what happened to Marie Garant, what led her body to be caught up in local fisherman Vital Bujold’s nets.

Now, I am particularly partial to crime fiction in translation anyway, since oh-so-long ago when I fell in love with Harvill’s beautifully packaged, bone-achingly good noir. Today, Orenda, Karen Sullivan’s baby, is garnering well-deserved attention for its high-quality and diverse crime-fiction titles, many of which are in translation. We Were the Salt of the Sea is a fine addition to this already great list.


We Were the Salt of the Sea | Roxanne Bouchard, trans. David Warriner | Orenda | April 2018 | paperback | £8.99 |


Suggested soundtracks: Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn’s beautiful ‘The Water‘ (2010); Nick Drake’s ‘Riverman‘ (1969; not quite an ocean, but it’s gorgeous); Sufjan Stevens, channelling Elliott Smith in his lyrical album Carrie & Lowell (2015)

Suggested food: a little bit of cheese and some stale-ish bread (to double up as bait)


Acknowledgements: Quoted text from book pages 5, 12, 18 © VLB éditeur  2014; English translation © David Warriner 2017. This review is published as part of the Orenda book blog tour, March 2018. Thanks to Anne Cater for arranging it, providing a book proof and generally being lovely. All views expressed are our own. Image and review text © The Literary Shed 2018.


Also of interest:We should all be feminists‘; ‘Teresa Solana’s darkly funny Catalan noir – women in translation‘; Johana Gustawsson’s Keeper – Orenda does it again‘; Finlay’s last stand – Matt Johnson’s End Game; ‘Force of Nature–aka where’s Alice Russell?‘; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry‘; ‘”Amethyst and flowers on table” – the beauty of Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell‘; ‘The beauty of Sarah Taylor’s The Shore‘; ‘Nora Roberts’ Come Sundown – a tale of strong women‘; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut The Dry – murder and mayhem in small-town Australia‘; ‘An Alaskan epic – Rosamund Lupton’s The Quality of Silence; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original Penguin Ten‘; ‘Book covers we love – Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday‘.


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