Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Lost Salt Gift of Blood

The Lost Salt Gift of Blood - such a wonderful title for so many reasons -  and such a book, too - blasted by the northern hemisphere version of the same weather that was blasting us today. Sitting reading by the roaring fire lit by my husband, I am rendered almost invisible as the winds rage and the sea slaps - outside the window, inside my head.

The book is the first collection of short stories by Canadian author Alistair MacLeod. It came to my attention when reviewer Iain Sharpe suggested the wind-slashed, isolated island life of The Blue might have something in common with the stories in the 1976 MacLeod book, which are set on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and in Newfoundland.

Before you read more - click on this video of  Cape Breton musicians Qristina and Quinn Bachand playing the traditional music that pervades the place and the book. MacLeod talks of 'the near-Elizabethan songs and ballads that had sailed from County Kerry and Devon and Cornwall. All about the wild, wide sea and the flashing silver dagger and the lost and faithless lover' - but the fiddle and guitar music is different from the songs it seems, coming direct from the shores of Scotland and meant for dancing. I found the Bachands quite by accident on youtube last week and was smitten. It's raw, wind-swept, stuff.  

Anyway, since the lovely Sharpe book review which mentioned The Lost Salt Gift of Blood, I've kept an eye out for it ever since. But not until September this year, at the giant book fair at the TSB arena, did I catch sight of it: on my second visit, an hour from closing, and everything down to a dollar a book. The Lost Salt was sitting nonchalently on top of a pile of the overlooked.

I snatched it and then looked guiltily over each shoulder, as you do, to see if anyone else had noticed my greed. The place was pretty empty, but there to my left - less than a book-length away - was Lloyd Jones.

I held up my prize and he nodded amiably. It was his second trip to the book fair, too, apparently. The first trip was to collect up books for a library in Bougainville where Mr Pip is famously set.

I am only a little way into the title story so I can't tell you what The Lost Salt Gift of Blood means yet, but so far I am loving these elemental stories where men's trousers snap in the wind when they pee, and women have to insist the old horse is put down so he doesn't cost children their meals during an icy winter.

All this for only $1.

And I've got a stack from the fair still to go.


Rachel Fenton said...

Sounds wonderful - going to hunt out a copy!

I'm curious - from your pile of books - do you read what comes next on the pile or do you organise the pile: favourites first? I think way too much about piles of books! :)

Mary McCallum said...

Good luck with the hunt, Rachel! I am not an organised reader of books. I have already dipped into the Curnow book of poetry and the Eliot play and the Big Wellington poems - all of which are below Lost Salt. And then there are the other shelves of waiting books - found at fairs, lent, bought, sent for review,bookclub books etc ...But the pile of books in this post has its own integrity - all found over two days for a dollar or two - small treasures from another time. Reading them is a special treat.

Vanda Symon said...

Ooh, I see a couple of books there I want to acquire - The Scarecrow, and Blind Sight. Actually, come to think of it, I may have Blind Sight. Hmmm. A sure sign that I buy too many books when I can't remember exactly hat I've got!