Rachael Preston got her inspiration for The Wind Seller when, one day, she found a box of Elinor Glyn’s writing books in a Prince Edward Island antiques store. The box even had the mailing label still on it – addressed to a Noble Mattinson, Great Village, NS, Canada.
Nobel Mattinson becomes Noble Matheson, and one of The Wind Seller‘s main characters.
Noble’s time spent during WWI is unknown at first to the reader; we know his younger brother dies in the war and that Noble feels responsible, and we know that he spent several years in Halifax before coming home to Kenomee, a village near Economy NS, on the banks on the Bay of Fundy. After he returns, he lives with his mother and helps a friend with his fishing weir. But what he really wants is to write. He secretly orders a box set of Elinor Glyn’s System of Writing, and tries to figure out what it is that he wants to say.
That’s what comes of being a nobody, you have to sneak around, can’t hold your head up properly, have to be careful, watch your Ps and Qs in public. Can’t make too much of a fuss or someone might remind you what a failure you are, how you left your brother to fend for himself in all that godforsaken mud and shit and filth.
In the same village lives Hetty Douglas, a young newlywed with a past of her own. Both Noble and Hetty feel like outcasts – Noble’s feelings are more self-inflicted, while Hetty feels the judgment of the other villagers. And although Noble and Hetty are delegated two distinct storylines in the book, the theme of past and present connect them. As well as the memories they discover they share of the Halifax Explosion.
The first thing you might notice about Hetty is that she does not seem content with life; she seems restless and cold to those around her. She feels she does not fit in, but she also does not seem to be doing much to improve her situation. Like Noble, she’s caught up in her own demons. And as the very first pages of the book reveal, some of those demons are working against her marriage.
But it is the dizzying strength of her lust for these men, known and unknown, the way such feelings, with their adolescent power, rock her to her core that unsettles her. Much more than the carnality.
Then a mysterious schooner shows up at the village wharf. Hetty can’t resist checking it out along with everyone else, but soon she finds herself more involved than she had planned.
There’s something menacing is the way the schooner, painted black almost to her keel, consumes the wharf she is moored to, the way her bow angles above the horizon as if she’s mounting the bank, threatening to climb ashore.
There is a woman among the crew aboard the schooner – Esmeralda – dressed in men’s clothes. Hetty becomes intrigued by her and her seemingly “free” way of life, and imagines herself sailing away with Esmeralda and the crew. But what is really going on with the ship? And can Esmeralda be trusted?
… Esmeralda in her men’s clothes, which Hetty fears won’t protect her the way they would a man.
The blurb on the front of the book calls it “a romance, a mystery, and an intimate social drama”. The mystery and social drama are easy to see, but the ‘romance’ had me confused most of the way through the book. In the end, I was very satisfied with the direction the story took me.
The ‘mystery’ part of the story was a lot of fun – it had a very definite “Treasure Island” feel to it. Noble was even reading a copy of Treasure Island to his mother, and was reminded of it as he was being forced out to Moose Island by a mysterious man named Spoons – to spend the night shivering in his wet clothes and wonder if he would make it off the island alive.
The sticky mud sucks at his feet in places, threatening to take his shoes…
Historical events and local settings
One of the reasons I read this book was because it was recommended to me by Melanie at The Indextrious Reader for having scenes involving the Halifax Explosion (for my little HE project). The Wind Seller isn’t about the HE, but it does play a part in the story of both Noble and Hetty.
The book also mentions places such as the Halifax Public Gardens, the Halifax Hydrostones, Great Village, Cape Split, Economy, and Five Islands (including the story of the ghost of John Ruff). The characters often go into to Truro, as it is the nearest big town, and they have a conversation right outside of W.B. Murphy’s Confectionary and Ice-Cream Parlour on Prince Street. While driving to Halifax from Kenomee (which takes them nearly 8 hours!), they mention passing through Bass River, Portapique, Stewiacke and Fall River.
So with historical tie-ins to WWI, the Halifax Explosion, rum-running, and local historical details and settings between Five Islands and Halifax, NS – as well as a good story – this book was a winning combination for me.
The Bay of Fundy tides…
For Hetty there is something sublime about stepping across land that six hours hence will be submerged under forty feet of water, maybe fifty today with the spring tide. Watching its movement both soothes her spirit and feeds her restlessness. It has something to do with the way the water oscillates between one end of the Bay of Fundy and the other, as if a gigantic whale flipped its tail, as the Mi’kmaq legend goes, the outgoing tide never quite making it all the way out but forever being met by the waters rushing in, forcing the sea back through the funnel-shaped basin. And it has something to do with the cloudy red of the water, never clear because of the tide scrubbing against the red cliffs, wearing them down. Tinged with blood, Hetty thinks, the warning is in the colour. For the Minas Basin water is as dangerous as it is fascinating. Never the same twice, and, at this distance from the whirlpools and the roaring seas at Cape Split, never what it seems. In places currents run so strong and deep they can wrench apart a fishing vessel. The tide moves swiftly, rising the height of a man in an hour, and fog glides down the basin in deadly silence, turning people out beachcombing or clam digging around. Drownings are common. But such danger Hetty can respect, removed as it is from the seedy and unpredictable violence of people.
Further Reading and watching:
A little tour of Cape Spilt, NS, which sticks out into the Minas Basin.