Blurb from Goodreads
It sits at a fork between two roads, one a thick, commercial highway bedeviled by ice for ninety percent of the year; the other a stripped, frozen weave of a road, impassable for ten months out of twelve and huddled beneath wedges of brilliant white snow.
It is a wonder that Stokeland has any inhabitants at all; but it does, over a hundred souls.
- Angie, barmaid, too fond of the drink she serves.
- Gerry, the ancient trapper who has spent too long sleeping in the snow.
- Frank, teller of tales.
- Jack and Connor, bound to each other and to a shared life they cannot fulfill.
- Hettie and Ernest, driven by hunger.
Seeking answers in the cold tundra of the Arctic North, the Stokeland folk are drawn together by the power of one strange, unsettling word – Quilaq
Quilaq is a short novella that I felt was very difficult to get invested in initially. For almost 2/3 of the story I felt confused. I couldn’t find the narrative. The characters’ identities bled together, and no one character nor plot theme stood out out for me.
But then slowly it began to make sense. I accepted that this was never going to be a novel with in depth characterisations and somehow I began to understand what was unfolding.
The book is set in the Arctic North in a place called Stokeland. It is described as sitting at a fork between two roads; one road is a commercial highway and the other is a road that is frozen and impassable for ten months of the year. It’s bleak. A difficult place to eke out a living.
Yet somehow amid all this bleakness Stokeland is populated by a wide variety of people. People who mysteriously can’t quite remember how they got there but are people who were escaping from something unsettling in their past. People who are now all looking for something more from life. Looking for a place that feels like theirs. A place where they feel safe. A place where they feel loved and accepted. A place to call home.
In Stokeland there is talk of a settlement called Quilaq… but it might not even be a settlement. It might even be a state of mind. It’s very much a mystery as to whether it’s mythical or real. It could just be an old folk tale.
But each of the main characters in the book are enraptured by this idea of Quilaq and band together to find it.
As I said this novella took its time getting started. I found myself struggling to understand the story. Struggling to understand who each of the main characters were as people. I think for such a short tale there were too many main characters to keep track of. Even after finishing the novella I’m still unsure as to how many there were as I could never find myself connected to any one of them. I’m struggling to remember any names and really can only clearly recall the child Ernest. I believe there were 6 in total but the book could either have benefitted from greater detailing regarding these characters and their introduction to the novel and subsequent backstory by making the story slightly longer, or as I said cut down the number of key characters and maintain the novella’s length.
However there is much to enjoy from the ending of this novella. It’s very difficult to discuss without spoilers so what I will say is that it felt like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle finally coming together to reveal a coherent and beautiful picture, and therefore ultimately this made for quite the compelling and thought provoking read.
An interesting novella that I would recommend to fans that like their contemporary fiction to have a strong fantastical vibe.
*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the author via my blog. This review contains my honest thoughts and opinions*
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