‘Maiden from the Sea’

The Compass - - OPINION -

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

bur­tonj@nfld.net

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