A novel plunges a newly acquainted grandfather and granddaughter into adventures on the French canals.
Colin Aylesford of Bath, England, hasn’t seen his son, Michael, in almost 10 years. One day, he receives a letter from his boy stating that Charlotte, his wife, has died in an accident. Delphine, Michael and Charlotte’s 9-year-old daughter, is “coping as well as possible.” More than a month later, Colin learns from the police that Michael has been arrested in France in connection with his wife’s lethal trip down a flight of stairs. He’s also confessed to pushing her. Colin takes the small fishing boat he’s built—the Dragonfly—south, into the French canals. By special arrangement with Charlotte’s mother, Delphine joins him for the summer. The coupling proves exceptionally awkward, because Colin himself is a widower and has lived for years as a bachelor. Delphine is a precocious young lady who requires entertainment and careful attention paid to Amandine, her sock monkey. In prison, meanwhile, Michael reflects on a life spent without his own father after a deep estrangement sundered his parents decades ago. Later on the canals, Colin and Delphine meet Tyler, an American woman traveling alone who soon becomes instrumental in the relationship between Colin and his granddaughter. In this novel of quietly revealed passions, Dunn (Rebecca’s Children, 2016, etc.) gives audiences an experience that resists categorization. It reads like a special sort of coming-of-age tale for parents with either an empty nest or damaged families, in that Colin feels “stranded on the shore of his son’s life.” The pain of not raising his son returns with Delphine, who shares with Michael “the set of her jaw...her wide mouth, and her slightly crooked teeth.” While a good deal of levity is present, especially when Delphine utters her starchy catchphrase, “It is not possible,” Dunn’s story features dense layers of melancholy (Colin “felt sadness like a sharp blade drawn along the length of him”). Sunlight reaches the canals, but not before a gasp-inducing finale.
This emotional high-wire act should have readers racing to the end.