Daniel Doucet,
Codfish and Angels
(Sea-Cape, 2001)

It is 1967, the Church is changing, and it looks like the village is, too. Set in the fictional village of Baie Morue (or Codfish Bay, an appropriate name for a fishing village), this charming and funny novel follows the action when a multinational fish company attempts to locate its new plant in a small Acadian fishing village on the fictional province of Trinity Island. In Baie Morue, Father Lucien LeBlanc -- "the short, balding, sixty-seven year-old parish priest with a bit of a paunch" -- has got a lot to contend with. Not only is there the question of whether to sell a block of parish land to the corporation (thereby providing much-needed new jobs to the residents, but competing with the local fisherman's co-op and perhaps pushing the existing fish-plants out of business), there is also the difficult bishop, the CWL and, of course, the angel. Meanwhile, romance is in the air between two unlikely characters. The romance is one of middle-age, the protagonists are self-aware and realistic. Daniel Doucet portrays clearly the difficulties of those who chose to step outside their usual role.

The cast of characters is large and varied, and never stereotypical. We never get the sense that their quirks and oddities have been manufactured for our entertainment, or for the sake of providing the requisite "quirky rural characters." Doucet captures their speech and manner perfectly, and makes each of them unique, each an individual. Getting to know the inhabitants of Baie Morue and becoming enmeshed in their daily lives, we begin to look upon the villagers as Father Lucien looks at his congregation, seeing them in all their complexity and human weaknesses. Father Lucien's perspective and his musings as he gazes at the faces turned toward him on Sunday mornings is illuminating. His practical wisdom and his own human flaws make him an engaging protagonist.

"It was what people called an 'old-fashioned winter,' although it wasn't clear that this kind of winter had ever been out of fashion, or replaced by anything made in Florida or Hong Kong. In any event storm followed upon storm, and the snow piled higher than it usually did in Baie Morue, most of it being normally blown out to sea. Not that it didn't blow. It blew like a son-of-a-bitch, so that night upon night the old glebe swayed and creaked upon its wooden pegs. More than once Lucien went to sleep with the sound of the glass globe of his night light dancing in its metal base on the chest of drawers next to his bed. More that one Sunday he plowed through knee-high snowdrifts to say mass for the three or four people who were there less out of a sense of piety than out of a sense of challenge to the elements. Strange, he thought, how it was always the back pew people who made it through the storms."

Doucet's work shows a remarkable understanding of human nature. He looks at the inhabitants of his mythical but all-too-real fishing village with a clear and affectionate eye. This writer goes beyond cynicism into compassion, and his characters are multi-dimensional and full of contradictions. The descriptions of changes taking place in the community and the economy of the region are well-observed and described with meticulous care. I was particularly struck by the descriptions of the several ethnic groups and their interactions, the small glimpses of church politics and the musings from the point of view of a parish priest as he looks down from the altar to his flock.

This book is an enjoyable read, appearing to be more light than it really is -- rather like eating a large bowl of chicken soup because it tastes so good, then realizing that it has cured your headcold.

[ by Joyce Rankin ]
Rambles: 9 February 2002