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A Fine Passage

by France Daigle, Robert Majzels, trans.

France Daigle’s latest novel, A Fine Passage, is an elegant puzzle about how lives intersect and the way small acts of kindness can have far-reaching effects. “Can you imagine boundless joy?” a garrulous old man asks 15-year-old Claudia as they fly across the Atlantic at the beginning of the book.

She can’t. She is on the way to spend a week of boarding school holiday with her parents in Israel, a visit about which she is a little apprehensive. She’s not keen on talking to the man, who looks, she thinks, a bit like the Pope and a bit like a rabbi. She’d rather daydream and wonder about the other passengers. In spare sections no longer than four paragraphs, Daigle tells their evocative stories over the next 10 days, as well as that of a man killed in a (possibly not accidental ) car crash, a woman who smokes only in public, and a man who does jigsaw puzzles and gives away diamonds.

None of them but Claudia achieves that pinnacle of human experience, but by the end of this short novel they all have come closer to love. And Claudia, who has been the unwitting agent of change in their lives, “is filled with joy.” Why? Because, as the last section suggests, she was open to receive a message of love and beauty beamed by the accident victim as his lifeforce is dissipated in the universe.

Fans of the mystical will enjoy this uplifting, quirky novel, as will anyone with an interest in experimental fiction. Robert Majzels, the winner of the Governor General’s Award for Translation in 2000 for Daigle’s novel Just Fine, has once again done an excellent job of rendering Daigle’s elegant prose into English.