“Soon they could see the spire of Notre Dame de la Victoire–and then they were in the shadow of the rock itself. When she stepped upon the shore, Cécile remembered how Sister Catherine de Saint-Augustin, when she landed with her companions, had knelt down and kissed the earth. Had she been alone, she would have loved to have done just that.”
“Shadows on the Rock,” by Willa Cather
I have a great many books by Willa Cather, not because I am particularly fond of her by any means, but merely because I took a class on her works when I was in college. They’re not terrible books; I have been in no rush to re-read any of them and it’s nice to have another book on the list that will likely bring a few more views on my pages due to people googling things for what I assume are school projects. I re-read O Pioneers! last year, and I enjoy Shadows on the Rock infinitely more.
Like most of Cather’s books, Shadows on the Rock is not much of a story driven by a plot so much as simply by the characters, and, like many of her novels, it’s more of a love letter to a place and time more than anything else. Rather than the Nebraska plains of many of her books, this one takes us not only back in time, but also up north, to the French settlement of Quebec in Canada. Her loving portrayal of that wilderness as the world neared the eighteenth century, mostly through the eyes of her young heroine Cécile Auclaire and her apothecary father, Euclide, is inspiring; it makes me wish that I’ve actually visited that part of Canada myself. It touches, albeit lightly, on many subjects: the roughness of living in the colonies, the sense of community that develops there while the gap between the mother land of France grows wider and wider and wider, faith, love, materialism, social differences, and an appreciation for what you have. But the ultimate point of the book is finding a satisfaction in where you are, no matter how difficult or wild or hard it may seem.
The story is told, then, in more a collection of anecdotes, of time passing and events happening, without any really extreme climax into a solution or anything like that. This is definitely slice-of-life in novel form; it’s one of Cather’s later novels, published in 1931, so it is blissfully not as heavy as some of her earlier ones. There is a want, I feel, for a little bit more, but the snippets are undeniably charming and the book leaves you with a warm little feeling and a thought for the people who braved this part of the world before us. It almost made me wish I was Canadian enough to feel it was part of my history. It’s a surprisingly quick read, too; the storytelling style helps move it along more quickly, I think, though sometimes you’re left feeling like it moves on to the next one without giving a satisfactory conclusion to the last. But it’s good; it would make for a perfect wintertime, fireside read.
Books read: 19 out of 100.