Friday, November 09, 2007

Latitudes of Melt

by Joan Clark

I read Shipping News earlier this year while we were traveling in Newfoundland. It didn't fill me with a sense of Newfoundland the way that Latitudes of Melt did. Shipping News could have taken place anywhere in a small, cold, coastal community whereas Latitudes evoked a strong sense of Newfoundland.
"There amid the cushioning green, millions of bakeapples shown like orange stars, spreading inland as far as the eye could see, past the blue pond water to the infinite rise beyond. They were a galaxy whose constellations changed as handfulls of berries tumbled into pails. No matter how far the women walked inland, they were never out of sight of the sea. . . the berries grew best in boggy ground, the same bogs where purple iris grew."
Newfoundland is in the middle of the latitudes of melt, between 46 and 51 degrees north, a region where icebergs calved in Greenland drift down the Labrador Current to dwindle in the coves before disappearing altogether below the 43rd parallel. For this reason alone the title was appropriate for the story. Clark carries the theme of icebergs and melting beyond the setting and into the characters themselves and their relationships. There are times when the current of circumstance melts the frost in a person's and other times when the cold hardens into an iceberg. And like an iceberg only a small portion of the thing is visible.

Latitudes of Melt starts out when the main character, Aurora, is found bundled into a basket and floating on a flat piece of ice. The book is about her life and those she is closely associated with. It covers nearly the whole of the 20th century.

I really liked this book - the story, the writing, the characters were all captivating. It was a treat to read about some things I had learned about earlier in the year, such as growlers, bakeapples, bogs, the Christmas tradition of mummering and confederation. This is a book I look forward to reading again.


Jodie Robson said...

I read The Shipping News while flying over Newfoundland, but you don't get much impression from the air, except of lakes and snow! But I read a recommendation that Latitudes of Melt was the better book to give a real feel of "place" and it certainly seemed so to me. I felt at the end that I knew something about how people had lived their lives, and was very glad that I'd read it.

jenclair said...

This was on my list several years ago. I kept checking with the library for this one and a couple of others. After awhile, I guess I forgot about it, but it got excellent reviews! Thanks for reminding me! This is the second "reminder" tonight of books that were on one or another of my TBR lists.

Anonymous said...

I love books with a strong sense of place, especially a place that I would love to visit. Newfoundland is one of those place for me. Thanks for the review and I'll have to see if the library has this.

Booklogged said...

GeraniumCat, I'll bet from the air you could see lots of lakes. I was surprised at how many bodies of water we saw while driving.

Jenclair, I hope you're able to fit this book in among all the books you have on standby. I think you'll like it.

Kay, Newfoundland was full of surprises for me. We went out from the northern most tip on a boat and saw icebergs. Then from near St. John's we went out to an island and saw hundreds of puffins. We ate some very yummy and new-to-us food. I hope you get to visit there someday.

John Mutford said...

As a Newfoundlander, you nailed it: Latitudes of Melt reads as authentic while the Shipping News doesn't. It's not to say that someone from away can't write something believable about the place, but Proulx sadly didn't- though the story itself was fine.

I loved reading your reactions to the place and customs. Btw, bakeapple (some people not from the island call them cloudberries) cheesecake is about the only dessert I go ga-ga for.

Melwyk said...

Ditto to what John said; I loved Latitudes because it was written by someone who clearly knew what she was writing about. And, of course, the story fascinated me.