Source: Review copy
Publication: 12 November 2020
When an abandoned lobster trawler is found adrift off the coast of Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, DS Joaquin Moralès begins a straightforward search for the boat’s missing captain, Angel Roberts – a rare female in a male-dominated world. But Moralès finds himself blocked at every turn – by his police colleagues, by fisheries bureaucrats, and by his grown-up son, who has turned up at his door with a host of his own personal problems.
When Angel’s body is finally discovered, it’s clear something very sinister is afoot, and Moralès and son are pulled into murky, dangerous waters, where old resentments run deep.
In my review of her first D.S. Joaquin Moralès story, We Were the Salt of the Sea, I asked ‘Do you ever start to read a book and then wish it would never end?’ That’s how I felt about that wonderful book and I am delighted that the second book is just as poetic and just as beautiful.
The Coral Bride is a work of distinction. It is beautifully written with Bouchard’s flawless lyrical prose and melds light and shade throughout the novel interspersed with moments of real humour and tenderness.
The sense of place is immense. As you read you will feel the sea seep into your pores and taste the salt on your lips. The rhythms and cadence of the sea flow through Bouchard’s work as she once again focuses on a small community of fisher folk on the Gaspe Peninsula. This is a crime novel but it is also a story about fathers and sons, of strangers in a new land and of women in a man’s world.
With humour and verve, Bouchard transports you to the Gaspe Pensinsula and immerses you in the lives of the people of a small fishing community.
This tale is both tender and poignant; it speaks of a harsh life, cruel decisions and love and loss. At one point a character refers to ‘the saltwater of sorrow’ and you know just what that means. Bouchard’s characterisation is delightful. The way both father and son are attracted by the curve of an ankle or the bone at the base of a neck shows, more than their actions ever can, how alike they are.
In this fabulous novel, Joaquin is visited by his son Sébastien, who accompanies him to the village where the crime took place partly to spend some time with his father and intending both to unburden himself and tell his father some home truths.
Though there is a crime, the death of lobster boat owner and Captain, Angel Roberts, and Morales will use his dogged and determined methods to solve it, this book is so much more than that. It is an elegy to the sea and those who work it. Not an over-romanticised one, it has to be said, for in this village there are rivalries, poor behaviour, casual racism and so much more. But no-one who lives there or who comes to visit can deny the power that the sea holds and the lives over which it exercises control.
Morales and his son will find that they have more in common than they would ever have wanted to admit and as they reconnect, some home truths seem to emerge for both of them.
Cyrille understands the sea. For him it has been his whole life and his guiding force. He knows how much it can tell you and just how cruel it can be. He has tried to teach his friend Joaquin a little of what he knows but now the sands of his time are running out.
Here there is love and death, sex and sensuality from dancing and cooking and lovemaking to bitter truths about relationships that hit home hard. Here, like Sebastien, you will have your eyes opened to the truth and beauty that the cruel sea offers.
Verdict: I loved The Coral Bride. So much more than a crime novel, it is a beautifully written elegy that speaks to the human condition in a wonderful book by an accomplished wordsmith.
Roxanne Bouchard reads a lot, but she laughs even more. Ten years or so ago, Roxanne Bouchard decided it was time she found her sea legs. So she learned to sail, first on the
St Lawrence River, before taking to the open waters off the Gaspé Peninsula. The local fishermen soon invited her aboard to reel in their lobster nets, and Roxanne saw for
herself that the sunrise over Bonaventure never lies. We Were the Salt of the Sea is her fifth novel, and her first to be translated into English. She lives in Quebec.