x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Pierre Szalowski novel is a clever, but not especially memorable read

In Pierre Szalowski's Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather, a boy pleads to the sky for help when told that his parents are splitting up.

Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather
Pierre Szalowski
Canongate Books

In January 1998, an 11-year-old boy in Montreal is told that his parents are splitting up. The boy, filled with grief and confusion, pleads to the sky for help.

The next day, the Great Ice Storm of 1998 begins, blanketing the city with ice and knocking out power. The boy, our narrator for many parts, and who remains unnamed throughout the book, cannot fathom how this natural disaster can possibly heal his heart or bring his parents back together.

Across the street, a reclusive Russian mathematician named Boris is desperate to keep the four fish in his aquarium alive. He has been studying their trajectories for years and has a theory that they will change direction if the temperature drops. He enlists his attractive neighbour across the street, Julie, who has electricity, to help him maintain the temperature of the water for his fish so he can continue his research. Other neighbours, the bigoted Alexis and his troubled son Alex, are taken in by two mysterious men whose comings and goings are not easily explained.

A clever, quirky book that's easy to read, with original French occasionally interspersed for flavour and accuracy, Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather could be a thoughtful art house indie film, but lacks the gravity of a memorable read.

* Ellen Fortini