The Douglas Notebooks: A Fable by Christine Eddie

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Once there was a boy who grew up feeling like he couldn’t do anything right. No one would give him the time of day, and everything that went wrong was blamed on him. So he went far away, deep into the woods, to live by himself. On the same day there was a girl who was running away from her abusive father and her poor dead mother. The girl took up residence with a pharmacist in a small town and learned about the uses of plants. She loved going into the woods to search for these plants. One day she heard some beautiful music coming from deep in the woods, and decided to find out where it was coming from.

12035634You can imagine what happens next, of course. But the story does not end here. And they do not live happily ever after.

We often imagine that love must gush forth spontaneously, surround itself with disarming turmoil, and blossom with a roar. Yet love also advances with muffled tread.

Sometimes it hurts to live.

This story is about life, death, healing, and forgiveness. Besides the girl and boy, there are a few other characters in the book who play a vital part; a respected doctor, disappointed in love; a school teacher with a mysterious past; and a little girl who grows up in the shade of a Tamarack tree.

12881128And the trees. This book is filled with trees; the love of trees both familiar and foreign. They comfort, they beautify, they symbolize, they unify, and they bring hope and healing.

They shivered in the slightest breeze, and listening to them made one a poet.

Elena’s gaze, though, was always focused farther away, as far as the tamaracks that stood out in the background like merry acrobats. Neither broad-leafed or conifers, they formed a separate group, a somewhat crazy orchestra in the midst of sensible and careful musicians.

There is something about this story that is comforting, even as you are crying your eyes out. Maybe it’s in the way the story is told; the simple prose, the magical fairy-tale quality. Or maybe it’s the steadfastness of the supporting characters.

887573When I got to the end, it brought to mind the children’s book, Something From Nothing, where the young boy in the story is given a blanket when he is  born. He loves it so much that it gets raggedy and he brings it to his grandfather to fix. His grandfather cuts off the ruined pieces and makes something else out of it. This happens again and again until there is nothing left of it. But the boy still figures out how to make something from nothing.

Although the stories are not alike, maybe it’s the message that is the same. We need to learn how to make the best of what we have, and that, even out of loss and change, can come something beautiful.

“Between the lines, what was important to me is the importance of beauty in life through poetry, nature, music,” says Eddie, in an interview with The Daily Gleaner.

The Douglas Notebooks is both a beautiful book to look at and to read. It was translated from French by Sheila Fischman. The French edition of The Douglas Notebooks won the 2008 Prix France-Quebec, the 2009 Prix Senghor du Premier Roman Francophone, and the 2010 Prix du Club des Irresistibles.

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43 thoughts on “The Douglas Notebooks: A Fable by Christine Eddie

  1. Sarah Emsley says:

    Making the best of what we have; making something from nothing — beautiful. A few minutes before I read your blog post I read a piece on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women by my friend Rohan Maitzen, who concludes that “the March girls learn to turn their best faces to the world — and they are richly rewarded for it.” Do you know the picture book Joseph Had a Little Overcoat? Same idea of creating something out of nothing.

    • Naomi says:

      We’ve had Joseph Had a Little Overcoat from the library – I was forgetting about that one. I’m pretty sure we got it because it was a similar idea to Something From Nothing, which my kids liked, but not as much as I did. I wanted to prolong the theme. 🙂

  2. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    When I read “Sometimes it hurts to live,” I knew I wanted to read this book. But when I then read that this involves crying one’s eyes out, I knew that I had to read it. And I want the edition with the green cover, although I suppose I could do with the red cover as well.

  3. writereads says:

    Loved Something from Nothing! Isn’t is just the sweetest book, especially with the second storyline of the mice going on in the illustrations at the bottom?
    Anywho, I’ll definitely give this book a try. I love my fairy tale inspired lit. Have your kids read the Adam Gidwitz stuff? I know they’re older now, but they’re some of my faves.
    Ack! The English version of the Douglas Notebooks isn’t at our library so I’m going to try it in French, I haven’t read a full novel in French in 10 years, but what the heck. This is actually the second novel today that our library doesn’t have. Best library in North America my bum! Actually, it is still a really good system, I’m just cranky with it today 🙂 -Tania

    • Naomi says:

      I get cranky with my library when it doesn’t have books that I think it should have, even though I love it anyway. So I get it. 🙂
      We’ve never read Adam Gidwitz, but his books do look good. I love the covers. And, even better, our library has them! I think my younger daughter might like these.
      I really like all of Phoebe Gilman’s books, but there’s just something about Something From Nothing. Maybe because it’s about writing stories…
      The Douglas Notebooks is the perfect book to practice your French. It’s not too long, and the prose is simple and straight forward. I’m sure it’s even better in French. Let me know what you think!

  4. Cecilia says:

    “crying your eyes out”?! That does sound like my kind of book – I love books that wield that much power over readers. It sounds beautiful, in part because it is about two children. Your initial description about the boy – it made me wonder if I sometimes make my little boy feel that way 😦 I will look this one up!

    • Naomi says:

      Oh no, you couldn’t possibly make him feel the way Romain does in the story. It was very extreme.
      I love books that make me cry. My husband can’t understand it, but they’re just so good!

    • Naomi says:

      Gush away! I took so many pictures hoping to get the book in just the right light to show it off properly, but they ended up all looking pretty much the same. I wonder if there is a market for book photography? 😉

  5. Grab the Lapels says:

    I love the idea of “a school teacher with a mysterious past.” We intrinsically trust teachers to the point where a kid seeing his/her teacher outside of the classroom is mind blowing. Have you ever seen a teacher or professor at the grocery store? Weeeeird. In your last image, I see the book has those unevenly cut pages (what I call “raggedy pages”). I absolutely HATE those. It makes it nearly impossible to quickly flip through, which is cumbersome when you’re trying to find a passage to quote!

    • Naomi says:

      I think the ‘raggedy pages’ are pretty, but you’re right about them being hard to flip through.
      I even find it weird to see my kids’ teachers outside the classroom. It still feels uncomfortable – are we friends? acquaintances? should we chat about the kids? the weather? or just walk on by? Haha.

  6. lauratfrey says:

    Dang, and here’s me on a book buying ban. Is it just me, or is that like a SUPER deckled edge? This puts me in mind of The Hunter and the Wild Girl – I think you read that (going off to check your archives… I’m starting me review shortly)

    • Naomi says:

      I haven’t read that, but I REALLY want to read it! How did you like it? (Maybe I won’t have to read it after all.)
      I thought it was a super deckled edge, too. More than other books. So pretty.

    • Naomi says:

      It definitely has a fairy-tale feel to it. I felt like I was reading a bedtime story to myself. In fact, I had to look up the difference between a fairy-tale and a fable (which is what this is billed as). I guess fairy-tales have happy endings and fables have morals. I’d say this reads like a fairy-tale with a lot of heartache and a message.

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