Fathom Lines Kindle Edition
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Fathom lines are sinuous line on a nautical chart joining all points having the same depth of water and thereby indicating the contour of the ocean floor. This novel makes good use of things that are buried: Vee’s box of mementos, Lise’s study of old Toronto, hidden under the new mega-city, and the sorrows of each woman’s life. The author drills down beneath the obvious to the bedrock of the character’s soul. In many ways, “Fathom Lines” reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s “The Robber Bride” in its unflinching exploration of women’s lives.
As noted, the writing is exquisite. The book is well edited and typo free. My only quibble is that I was confused by so many characters all having names that started with V. There’s Verene, called Vee; hers sister Vivene, called Viv, and an aunt called Val. Because the story is told in both past and present, Vivene is both Viv and Aunt Viv—and sometimes Vivi; Val is Aunt Val and Great Aunt Val, and honestly, I had a hard time following who was who. Still, I rate this book five stars and highly recommend it to readers looking for character-driven women’s fiction that goes beyond the ordinary.
Like the contour lines on topographic maps which join elevations of similar heights, fathom lines connect unseen regions of similar depth on nautical charts. The title of this complex and absorbing novel of family ties, especially amongst women, hints at hitherto unknown similarities, connections and drama underneath the surface which connect the central family: great grandparents, grandparents, mother and daughter. The novel is full of imagined insight into this complex web of relationships where deep secrets and family trauma are covered up and unspoken until they storm against emotional anchors. Vee, the mother of the young protagonist Lise speaks of her own complicated relationship with her mother, the grandparent of Lise;
...I felt adrift, like she'd pushed me offshore and kept the paddle for herself. How
unfair, because what use did she have for a paddle anyway?
Each generation of women in this family seems caught in some kind of emotional web incapable of achieving a satisfactory relationship with one another and besieged by personal crises which seem to roil like stormy water.
This is Erin Bedford's first published novel. Her writing skill has long been recognized from her early school days to her experience at the Humber School for Writers where she won a Certificate of Distinction for her manuscript. She has an incredible mastery of language and character reminiscent of some of Margaret Atwood's style. When Vee comes face-to-face with her long absent and estranged father, she is incapable of understanding the reasons behind his apparent abandonment of his young family . She rails at him as he returns much later in life with an offer of help during a family crisis:
I fling words out in hopes they might catch him under the skin
like a barbed hook, in hopes that part of him will tear away to reveal
Residing in downtown Toronto, Bedford captures the flavour of the city's neighbourhoods as her various characters walk along streets familiar to many residents and visitors, places such as Bloor Street, Allen Gardens, College Street and Bathurst. Her experience of many summers spent in Northern Ontario inform her descriptions of life in Wamish, the fictional northern town which lies at the root of the novel's family's history.
On finishing the novel, which weaves in and out of present and past , the reader will continue thoughtful reflections about family relationships and the fragility of the human condition. There's an almost existential element in the realization that we may never really "know" another person, even those in our own family circle. Looking through old family albums, pictures, and digital images which provide only a limited visual image of our past, we may wonder what these people were really like and perhaps feel like Vee who mourns over old photos of her beloved Claude:
I don't want to remember him as he is in the photographs so static
and disconnected. In twenty years when the pictures are brought out,
his hair and unfashionable clothes cannot be laughed at. He will not
have the chance to outgrow these fickle trends.
This is a highly recommended novel, the first of many ,one hopes, for this talented writer.