A story of loss and struggle for identity around a remote Canadian lake in the 60s (ish). It starts out slowly and straightforwardly with two couples visiting the remote island cabin that belonged to the narrator’s missing father. However, it becomes evident (I can hardly say “clear”) that there is much more going on. There are tensions between and within the couples, the narrator’s own story is tantalisingly contradictory and it’s not always clear at first whether she’s talking literally or metaphorically. This is acknowledged to some extent, when the narrator checks herself and wants to be sure her memories are her own, rather than other people’s commentary on how they think she felt.
There is plenty of symbolism, principally different types and states of trees (live, stumps, ash, sawdust); problems of understanding between French and English speakers and also between those ostensibly speaking the same language, and watery visions of drowning, inundating and surfacing. There is also a strong anti-American, anti-colonial theme: wanting to repel those who want to take over and spoil the wilderness.
The narrator is trying to resolve issues with her dead mother and missing father, her boyfriend, her ex-husband and their child she left behind, a former lover, the natural world, and whether she wants to be a wife, mother, artist or even an ordinary human.
Quite early on, we are told that “madness is private” and later that it is “only an amplification of what you already are”. As the book progresses, it becomes more mystical and eventually the narrator descends into her own private madness, exacerbated by loss of identity, family, independence, babies, freedom and more. It stops. Without a formal ending. Without resolution.