‘Maiden from the Sea’
A week ago, I was set to fly to Fort Mcmurray to conduct interviews for a book I’m writing. Sadly, mere days before, one of my interviewees, his wife and son, along with four other people, were killed in a vehicle accident. I ref lected on this horrific tragedy by reading Nellie Strowbridge’s latest novel.
“Maiden from the Sea” engages the reader in the life and mind-scape of Genevieve Laurier, a servant girl from seventeenth-century France. En route to destinations unknown, she is tossed from a vessel and stranded on an island in the Atlantic. The lass struggles to survive on an unforgiving coastline, her only company two Irish fishermen, a Beothuk warrior and the women who inhabit her dreams. Genevieve’s past, present and future collide in one defining moment.
“There’s a certain philosophy to this novel,” Nellie admits in an email interview with this columnist. She wants readers to reflect on “their lives as being part of something larger than themselves. The life in us always existed as part of the whole. We have existed from the beginning of time, and are recycled from all those who came before us, our bodies from their bodies, their bodies from those before them, back to where the world began.
“If we can carry the same expression or feature as a forebear, who is to say we do not also carry part of memories created and existing in the genetic material bequeathed to us?
“Though each of us is a separate entity from our parents, we carry, not only physical traits, but memory traits …
“No matter what our time is in history, we carry recycled memory, even if we don’t access it. What if some trauma allowed us to access our forebears’ memories and they became ours?”
What meets the eye is only part of the tale Nellie tells.
She c h o o s e s Hibb’s C o v e (renamed Ochre Cleft Cove), where her father and grandfather grew up, to ground her work.
“The cove was a familiar place for me as a child,” she says. “There were 18 stages along the beach, and in the face of the open sea, and a network of families calling across the cove to each other. I wanted to imagine the place before it was settled.”
Nellie insists she is “drawn away from the atmosphere of our manmade environment to the place and time when a person heard only the natural sounds of their surroundings. Artificial light has blinded us to the beauty of our world. Our minds are crowded with the explosion of global internet connections, some of which have little bearing on our lives.”
The author takes the reader back to a paradise lost of sorts, “away from the electronic world and its multi layers of electronic debris, crowding our lives (to) a world with natural sounds, a world before this island was settled.”
The French presence in Newfoundland in the early days of colonization creates a reasonable backdrop to the novel. The author uses the symbolism of the Great Auk and the Beothuk, crafting “a story as real as it could be imagined.”
The complexities of the human mind resonate throughout. “The mind and where it can take a person has always fascinated me,” Nellie explains. “The mind survives through so many physical and emotional tragedies, the physical as devastating as the mental … Wherever we are in our minds in a particular moment, that is where we exist, that is what is real.” Her novel is bound to generate thoughtful debate about mental issues.
Nellie is no stranger to the world of writing, having written several well- received books, including “Catherine Snow,” the last woman hanged in Newfoundland. She suggests, “People read books to be drawn into the conflict of a story, to become part of other people’s lives.”
She writes what she feels, hoping her readers will feel what she writes.
“Moments of my life become part of theirs through the gift of reading,” she states. “Conflict is a whetstone that brings us alive. Some people feel alive only when they are caught in turmoil or in frightening, threatening situations. A person, with a sense of apathy about their relationships with other people and the world, lives a stagnated life.”
The novel is left somewhat open ended. Nellie explains: “Where the book ends , t h e reader’s mind becomes the traveller.” Readers are called upon to “use their imagination” to think “beyond the book about their own lives in this place, at this time.”
Created in a fertile mind, “Maiden from the Sea” tells with great empathy the story of a female caught in the ups and downs of precarious living conditions in a ruthless environment. Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at