The Ice Chorus
LITTLE, BROWN; 328 Pages; $24.95
Liselle Dupre is recently divorced when she arrives on the gray, wintry coast of Ireland. She's carrying with her the memory of four men: her father, who died when she was young; her ex-husband, whom she's left after feeling misunderstood for years; a painter who became her lover in Mexico; and her teenage son, from whom she is now estranged. fixed-asset perfectPixelWide noGen: item_perfectpixelwide 19 e fixed-asset perfectPixelWide
Life is fairly good to Liselle, a trim, artistic type in her 40s who has come into some money around the time of her divorce, and now has the leisure time to meander along the coast south of Donegal, sorting herself out.
Liselle is melancholy and somewhat whimsical: In the midst of rediscovering herself, she buys the small Morris car she spots while drinking tea in a small village. She rents and slowly repaints a ramshackle cottage she spies along a bluff. The cottage reminds her of a cottage she saw in a painting by the lover.
Life is slow in Ireland, and Liselle's time is solitary. She considers taking up her camera to make a new film. She does a few errands, like ordering peat for her stove, or buying local linen sheets that turn out to have been made in Portugal. At the village hardware store, Liselle meets Remy Connor, an elderly, gap-toothed local sage, the patriarch of a town family. He is gruff but friendly. He begins eyeing her with suspicion and ends up regaling her with a good Irish ballad. (The book is full of nice Irish ballads.)
Remy tells Liselle the story of how he met his wife. Liselle is disarmed and decides to put him in her film. She decides to put the whole town in her film. Fortunately, the people in town are great talkers. Liselle spends a day in the hardware store, filming people tell the stories of marriage and divorce and love at first sight. She likes the Connors particularly: Remy and his wife, Margaret, are still in love after the many years, while Siobhan, Remy's granddaughter, hankers after a boyfriend who has left her for Boston. Liselle decides that her film will be about love.
It's a fairly pleasant way to heal from a divorce, and, in between errands and filming, Liselle uses her perch in the watery light of Ireland to reflect on her own loves. The chapters of the book travel from Liselle's present in Ireland back to the beginning of her affair in Mexico, near the coast of Belize.
Two years before she'd arrived in Mexico to visit her then-husband, Stephen, an archaeologist, at his dig. While staying at a guesthouse there, she met Charlie Lowan, a British painter. Lowan had painted a series of her in various phases of their affair. She'd realized how neglected she felt with Stephen. Something unfulfilled in Liselle had awakened. But when she had gone back to Canada, she had hesitated about ending her marriage.
She doesn't know if Charlie has waited, or if her son will forgive her. For the first time in years, she feels the need to think back over her own relationship with her father.
This book is a true romance, hankering and yearning after love of the soul-mate variety. A great deal of it takes place in Liselle's head. Yet, if the plot doesn't seem particularly original, and the characters seem a bit rosy-cheeked, the prose is gentle and subtle. It's fairly pleasant to watch Liselle see this or that glorious sky, or weigh this or that memory of a missing man.
This book feels like a slow-Saturday-afternoon kind of movie -- a woman leaves the life she knew and soul searches in a small but remarkably friendly village on the coast of Ireland -- but it isn't a bad movie. It would have sweeping landscape shots, colorful vistas, warm Irish accents, nice music. It would have color and vibrancy in Mexico. It might star Meryl Streep, if done well, or it might just be made for TV.
By the end, some things are resolved, others only changed. Time passes. Spring slowly comes. Liselle gets the house painted. And there's a kind of fulfillment about watching the light in Ireland shift as Liselle ruminates, and the ice breaks, and then disappears. •