Shadows on the Rock
Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
Pages: 278 First published: 1931
The book: Set in Quebec in 1697, this novel spans a year in the life of widowed apothecary, Euclide Auclair, and his daughter Cécile. The book opens as the last ship of the year sets sail for France before winter comes in and makes the sea journey impossible. For the next eight months, this French colony is cut off from Europe. As the novel progresses, we are introduced to Auclair’s neighbors, customers, and other characters who live on this northern rock.
You might like it because: Cather’s writing is wonderful. She brings her characters and places to life by creating a vivid image of them in the reader’s mind. Here’s one of my favorite descriptions from the book (Cecile has taken a small boy, Jacques, sledding at dusk), “for the soft content of pulling Jacques up Holy Family Hill into paler and paler levels of blue air, like a diver coming up from the deep sea.”
The other thing Cather does beautifully, in all her writing, is describe those quiet moments in life that happen without dramatic buildup or fanfare but are emotionally charged and poignant, providing us with insight into her characters.
What did other people say?
“Superbly written, with that sensitivity to sunset and afterglow that has always been Miss Cather’s.” – The New York Times
How quickly will you get into the book? It grabbed my attention from the first page. Cather is skilled at drawing you in and creating interest in her characters.
You might not like it because: There is no plot. No mystery to be solved, no serious trouble to be overcome, no disaster to be averted. It’s a year in the life of Auclair and his daughter.
What might you read next?
If you’d like to continue with a French theme, you could read Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop.
If you want to remain in the icy north, then pick up Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.
Or, read Longitude by Dava Sobel and learn about a scientific discovery that changed the lives of sailors who plied the oceans around the time period in which Cather’s book is set.