Author: Joanne Harris
Year Published: 2002
Genre: General and literary fiction, Drama
Following the death of her mother, Mado returns to her childhood home in Le Devin, a tiny island off the French coast. After ten years away, she finds that the generations-old rivalry between the two island communities - Les Salants and La Houssinière - remains strong. Morale is low in Les Salants, for it has suffered repeated floods while La Houssinière thrives with growing tourism. Cue a mysterious stranger, plans to revive Les Salants and some father-daughter tensions and the stage is set for drama.
The evocative atmosphere is the most memorable aspect of the book. Descriptions of the dunes, the beach and island life suffuse the novel and you get a great sense of place. Strangely and disappointingly, while Mado is a painter, there are virtually no descriptions of her craft. If you've read Chocolat (which in my opinion is better), you'll have an idea of what you’re in for. Like Chocolat, the male love interest is a handyman drifter character and you have a small community whose personal dramas give meat to the main plot.
Many scenes in the book are just comprised of various conversations between the villagers. They're all pretty much introduced at once, and though it's hard to keep track of them initially, you catch on. Le Devin is inhabited with many colourful personalities, and for me, they walked the line between flawed-yet-loveable characters and flat stereotyped placeholders (thankfully I still liked them). The main character, Mado, is largely easy to relate to, but sometimes her feelings and motivations are left kind of vague, which is vaguely frustrating. Whether you like the characters will be a fairly subjective matter, albeit one which contributes greatly to whether you'll enjoy the novel.
I had thought this would be a breezy kind of read, but it's actually the kind of book where everything just plods along until the end, when suddenly things happen. The ending feels rushed, as if the author suddenly realised she had to tie up all the family drama plotlines and had only a limited number of pages in which to do so. All those "reveals" made me feel like I was reading a mystery, which maybe this was. While things are ~resolved~, I wasn't completely satisfied as the outcome seemed like a bit of a cop-out; further, I would have liked certain aspects, such as Mado's relationship with her father, explored in greater depth. The rushed ending makes me disinclined to accept that it's ~supposed to be ambiguous~.
Coastliners is the kind of book you'd read when you're looking for something comfortable and easy, something relaxing to pass the time. The writing is smooth and the environment appealing. While the plot and the characters can feel somewhat shallow at times, the entire thing is suffused with a great deal of charm, making it a pleasant experience overall.
Alex's Rating: 3.5/5