Claire of the Sea Light - Edwidge Danticat

[“Every day, we must get up and look for life.”]

--Haitian saying

 

Claire of the Sea Light is a lovely little story. The language is beautiful and evocative, and I was fascinated by the details of everyday life in Haiti.

 

At the same time, I think this falls far more neatly into the category of literary fiction rather than my library's choice of "mystery."  The style is certainly literary: simple, yet lyric and vivid, weaving in Haitian phrases and their translations in a way that effortlessly submerges the reader in the Haitian culture.  However, more importantly, literary fiction seems to specialize in bending and even snapping the conventions of the novel, from toying with linearity to playing with perspective to dispensing entirely with conflict and denouement.

 

Claire of the Sea Light bends all of these conventions and more.  While the initial setup and framing storyline--the disappearance of the eponymous Claire after she has learned that her widower father is planning to let her be raised by a neighbor--might have drifted in the direction of mystery and suspense, that is not where the story lies.  Instead, the story is a peripatetic journey through the people of the tiny Haitian town.  Each of the townfolk recalls his or her own story and his or her interactions with the other characters. The story feels rather fragmented, and I thought it lacked a driving plot and resolution, but this repetition of events from different perspectives creates a multilayered, multifaceted view of events.  Some of the memories are truly terrible--a tragic accident, a gang-related murder, a rape--and each account sheds a small amount of light on events.  In this way, I suppose it is a mystery: a mystery of the complexities of life, of misunderstandings, of communication and miscommunication and action and regret.

 

Overall, an enjoyable breath of sea air and Haitian culture.