You can almost feel the sand between your toes as you read COASTLINERS. And yet this new novel from Joanne Harris, award-winning author of CHOCOLAT, is far from a typical beach read. Set on a small French island, the story revolves around a handful of families that dictate every aspect of life there with the notable exception of the tides. And, as they soon discover, even that power may be within their reach.
COASTLINERS is a potpourri of mystery, romance, and suspense. Readers follow in the footsteps of Madeleine or "Mado," a young woman who returns to her island home to a silent father and a community that is quickly slipping into the sea. An artist whose subject matter has always been the island, Mado returns to Les Salants from Paris seeking a sense of home, of family, of belonging.
Once again exploring the inner-workings of community, of who fits in and why, Harris deftly imparts deep-rooted feelings of loss with those of revenge to the inhabitants of Les Salants, a town where historical feuds fester and faith in a Saint overrides a sense of independent action.
Though readers may stumble on similar sounding names of an ever-expanding cast of characters, the compelling plot --- complete with unexpected twists and turns --- makes the story well worth the read. The power of charm in its seediest of contexts, the destructive effects of misdirected love, and the manipulative power of human nature work to pull at and repair the tiny island community of Les Salants. At the story's end, characters emerge with a renewed sense of direction and readers feel as though they've taken a dip into the deep end of a French island pool. Harris treats readers to descriptions of Les Salants and its residents that seem almost tangible. You can see the glittery pieces of sand as they build on the beach and taste the salt from the sea.
Harris strikes gold in this new novel, which catapults readers into the disheveled lives of one family that exists on an island of its very own. Carrying the expectations of a deceased mother and the guilt of leaving her forlorn father on Les Salants, Mado struggles to strike a balance between independence and familial reconciliation. Readers of CHOCOLAT may recognize familiar themes of self-discovery and shedding veils of the past in COASTLINERS. Yet unlike the dark element to CHOCOLAT, COASTLINERS imparts a sense of possibility in its 344 pages and leaves readers with a desire to know more about the about the fate of the Salannaise.
Reviewed by Heather Grimshaw on January 21, 2011