Well, here I go again, it seems. I’m binging on another author, with no help in sight for binge-readers like me. Cather is a master storyteller, and this novel takes us away from the Great Plains into a world that none of us have experienced. It’s the power of reading—you get to experience other times and other worlds.
Shadows on the Rock takes us to 1697 Quebec. There, political and religious conflicts take place against remote settlements and unforgiving winters. The novel follows a year in the life of Cécile Auclair, a twelve-year-old girl who lost her mother young and helps her apothecary father keep their home running. She tries to take care of Jacques, a young boy whose well-intentioned but shiftless and neglectful mother is more interested in pursuing men than a respectable living. Cécile must rely on her common sense, resources, and determination to survive the hard winter ahead and the turmoil that can unfold in a newly-established land. The landscape forms a major part of the plot, from the cold and meager winters, to the beautiful summers and the time of renewal when ships enter the harbor.
This might be one of my favorite Cather novels ever. You really get to know Cécile and understand how she functions as a person. You also get the sense of how she becomes Canadian, in learning to live off the land her family helped colonize, but then taking on that identity for herself. The landscape is harsh but beautiful, and Cather’s writing brings it to life. This might be one of the most imaginative novels I’ve ever read.