Engaging The Word
 
  summerish, 2005
main | archive | about | links
 

 

ETW TOP 10

1 - GUY GAVRIEL KAY

2 - GEORGE R.R. MARTIN

3 - CHRISTOPHER PHILLIPS

4 - CAITLIN SWEET

5 - GIL COURTEMANCHE

6 - LYNN OLSEN & STANLEY CLOUD

7 - BILL CAMERON

8 - ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH

9 - GABOR MATE

10 - DAVID ADAMS RICHARDS

MICHELLE WAN - Deadly Slipper: A Novel of Death on the Dordogne
Doubleday Canada, August 2005

LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW

It had been ten years since Mara had last seen her sister, and after arriving in France, and happening across a camera that she knows to have been owned by her sister, Mara tries to retrace Bedie's footsteps, hoping that along the way she will learn the truth about her sister's disappearance. In the novel "Deadly Slipper," Michelle Wan tells the story of a Canadian woman, Mara Dunn, who heads to the Dordogne region in France, hot on the long cold trail of her missing twin sister Bedie.

A thing that I noticed right away when first meeting Michelle Wan was a real enthusiasm for what she does. Of course all writers like writing, but there is a certain class of writers who seem to take more of an unabashed pleasure in what they do. It is as if they are filled with a certain confidence that what they write will be read. Generally speaking, the authors of a work of contemporary literature, who have poured tears and blood into creating darkly moving something-or-others, reminiscent of the great works of whozzit or wossizname, have this palpable, visible fear that what they have created will die an ignoble death, relegated to the $1.99 shelf of a clearance store. Those same authors are not only afraid that they won't be read, but that their readers won't find much of interest in what they have written. The confidence that Michelle Wan exhibited, was the confidence of a writer who knows that they do have an audience, who will care about what they have written.

Part cozy, part orchidological thriller, Wan creates an atmosphere that is quite distinctive. The novl is set on the Dordogne region, and you really feel this when reading, partly due to the acing, and also to the number of scenes that evoke the French countryside that many visitors there have come to know and to love. There is a great deal of eating, dirnking wine, sitting down, and having lengthy conversations. At times even situations rife with mortal peril seem to be relaxed and laid back in their own way. This is indeed refreshing, especially for the reader whose proverbial seat edge has about worn out, and is looking for a little less abuse. This is a welcome change, in my mind, from an inundation of tense, overly suspenseful police procedurals in the past few years. Whether it is one of the myriad incarnations or clones of CSI, or Law & Order on television, or the like movies, or the thematically related books, it seems as if the days of the whodunnit, the laid back guess-fest are long over. A decade and more ago, it was different. We could mull over our suspicion of Colonel Mustard vesus the other guy over cofee with some friends. Now it seems we all have to head on down to the crime lab before we can put our thinking caps on.

Wan spoke of knowing about The Orchid Thief, perhaps the most fmous book about those ghostly flowers, but had not actually read it before deling into Deadly Slipper. Readers looking for parallels, and homages will not find anything that was intentionally put there. Was this a good decision, or a bad decision by Wan? It depends on the perspective, though I lean toward the pproach she took. It is hard enough to write a novel, developing a story completely from your own imagination. The long hours, and the lonliness can often bring about moments of weakness, where a writer might question what they are doing. Looking to another work as a source of inspiation would, I think, only make those clouds darken, make it harder to get through because there is always that thought just on the edge of the mind that 'it's already been done.' Well this book, I am glad to say, hasn't been done before. Though some elements touch upon what has been fully explored in other works, such as the allure of orchids, and the uncany link betwee twins, Wan mixes them into the book as small bits of the whole, and not letting any one thing overwhelm the story.