An emotionally distant expat travels into the wilds of Canada, where he disappears into a rift in time.
This Canadian slice of magical realism by Baillie (The Incident Report, 2009, etc.) is largely about the search for meaning among the vestigial fragments of an unremarkable life. The story is told by an unnamed narrator who's meticulously reconstructing the travels of one Heinrich Schlögel, a young German wanderer whose only affections are for his polyglot sister, Inge. We first meet Heinrich in his youth, bicycling through Germany and indulging his fascination with animals. When Inge gives him the diaries of Samuel Hearne, a real-life British explorer who navigated across Northern Canada to the Arctic Ocean, Heinrich becomes determined to repeat the exercise. But on the advice of a new friend, he heads instead to the remote interior of Baffin Island, where his doubts threaten to overtake him. “I should have followed Hearne’s route, gone to the Western Arctic,” he thinks. “But Hearne’s path would still not have been my own path. How am I to find a route of my own?” In a surreal twist, Schlögel sets out on his journey in 1980 and thinks he’s spent only two weeks in the wilderness. Arriving back in civilization, though, he’s startled to find that 30 years have passed. His mother is dead, and his father denies that he is who he says he is, so Heinrich has only his sister to help him navigate this odd mix of the old world and the new. The novel is beautifully composed and walks a fine line between Heinrich’s internal debates and the narrator’s possibly unreliable obsession with his fate. However, it doesn’t end as much as stop, so readers looking for a satisfying sense of closure may be left wanting.
A poetic journey into mystery that asks hazy questions about time, culture and one’s sense of self.