The Island of Books

The Island of Books

Book - 2016
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A rich portrait of the beauty of words - painted by a 15th-century illiterate scribe.

A 15th-century portrait painter, grieving the sudden death of his lover, takes refuge at the monastery at Mont Saint-Michel, an island off the coast of France. He haunts the halls until a monk assigns him the task of copying a manuscript - though he is illiterate. His work slowly heals him and continues the tradition that had, centuries earlier, grown the monastery's library into a beautiful city of books, all under the shadow of the invention of the printing press.

'Dominique Fortier has a gift for making insightful connections between seemingly distant ideas, creating patterns that, at the end of the novel, leave you with the impression that everything is connected, both logically and supernaturally.

Set in an improbable fortress in the middle of the sea, her fourth novel explores the to and fro of love and creation. With writing that is both graceful and honed, The Island of Books gives love, maternity and particularly books the mystery that is their due.'--Jean-Marc Vallée

'Throughout these emotional rescues in the high seas, Dominique Fortier's writing is carried on a rich, beautiful and evocative language. The recurrent use of words from old French adds a patina that is appropriate for this journey filled with touching, illuminating moments ... Dominique Fortier plunges into the depths of human paradox and emerges with a love of books that she shares with grace and generosity.'

- La Presse (translated from the French)

'Dominique Fortier's writing is at once sensitive and interesting, moving and spare. It reveals a man blinded by pain who tells us his story of love, his distress and the light of the smile of a young woman. A book written in quiet emotionthat makes for good reading as the wind makes the autumn leaves rustle.'

- Au fil des pages (translated from the French)

Publisher: Toronto : Coach House Books, ©2016.
ISBN: 9781552453384
Characteristics: 147 pages ;,21 cm.
Additional Contributors: Mullins, Rhonda 1966-- Translator


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Mar 17, 2017

A most unusual book, hard to classify. In the end, I had to call it a dream sequence, conceived by a very talented writer. Some of the passages are spectacularly insightful; for example: "It is not enough for us to learn, to know and to believe. We still have to invent." If that passage alone were all that the book contained, the writing of it would have been a worthwhile endeavor. There are a number of other similarly insightful and epigrammatic fragments.
So why only three stars? Because in the end, the book never gets going with a substantial narrative. The writer, in both voices that she uses (her own modern one and that of a late medieval painter) has rendered a collection of fragments. Beautiful and unique as the fragments are, they never coalesce into a substantial portrait of either Mont-St-Michel or its hallowed library.

Feb 15, 2017

The prose and imagery is beautiful. However, the book takes place on an island with a monastery, and I don't have enough understanding of the Catholic church to understand what is going on.

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