The quality of life is in proportion to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way
I was given the opportunity to review Lisa Manterfield’s new novel, A Strange Companion, prior to its release. Before I get to the review, I want to say that I received a complimentary early review copy from the publisher for review purposes. No other compensation has been received or implied for this review, nor was I given guidance about review content. All the opinions expressed here are my own.
Having said all that, A Strange Companion comes out April 4th. Friends, you want this one.
The Aisne River flows in a northeast direction through northern France, at least until it reaches Reims, where it bends nearly due west and continues to its confluence with the Oise, and then on to the Seine and into the English Channel at Honfleur and Le Havre. The scenery alongside its banks is tranquil and bucolic, lined with trees and pastures as it has been for centuries.
In 1917 a ferocious battle was fought between French and German armies for a ridge near the Aisne River called Chemin des Dames, which translates to English as “the ladies’ path,” and was the preferred route for the daughters of Louis XV when they journeyed from Paris to the Château de Boves.
Isabelle Dequenne’s great-great-grandfather (or, if you prefer, her arrière-arrière-grand-père) Frédéric Dequenne was an Alsatian winemaker and a perceived Protestant. In 1871, the Prussian Otto von Bismarck besieged Paris, reduced Europe’s most epicurean diners to eating dogs, cats, rats, and flowers, and subsequently annexed Alsace-Lorraine for Germany. Not wishing to be German, Frédéric fled Alsace and settled among distant relatives in the Manche department of Normandy in the village of Pont-Bocage. Upon arriving in Normandy, Frédéric abandoned his perceived Protestantism, converted to a perceived Catholicism, and began distilling brandy. As a point of curiosity, Frédéric brought with him a Swedish wife named Karin Cecilia. No one knows how they met, only that she was young and beautiful, he was handsome, and there was a boat to Denmark involved. From the Brechard branch of the family Frédéric bought land that sat on the edge of the marshes beneath Pont-Bocage and called the farm Chez Marais, where he planted an orchard of apple trees and established a herd of dairy cows. Frédéric ingratiated himself among the local citizenry and by the time Isabelle was born fifty years later, the insular villagers were cautiously contemplating the possibility of perhaps thinking of maybe recognizing the …Read more →
Story guru Lisa Cron recently wrote an excellent article for Writer Unboxed, Don’t Accidentally Give Your Characters a Time Out, where she asked the question: Where do your characters go when they aren’t in the scene you’re writing? Although the answer seems obvious (“Well, they’re doing stuff”), I realized I hadn’t fully considered the question and that I was probably as guilty as anyone about ignoring my little babies one they exited the stage. The good news: they say that half the battle is knowing, so once I knew I was guilty of character-neglect, I took action. I decided to work out what had happened to my novel’s citizens thus far and see what trajectories they were on – and what actions they’ll take as a result – while offstage, and then see how that exercise impacted the overall narrative of the story.
I started with Isabelle’s godfather, Vincent Auvray. (Isabelle is the protagonist of The Gospel of Isabelle Dequenne.)
Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet