The loosely connected lives of a military historian, his wife, a poet, a funeral home proprietor, and her odd son gradually interlock in Jane Urquhart's first novel, The Whirlpool. This mesmerizing novel, which won France's Best Foreign Book Award, illustrates in perfectly polished, lyrical prose the mind-altering effects of landscape. Urquhart draws utterly separate, lonely individuals, each focused primarily on a singular obsession. David McDougal, a diehard Canadian nationalist and military historian, has temporarily moved into the woods above a whirlpool in Niagara Falls with his wife, Fleda. David fantasizes about Laura Secord, whom he imagines his wife resembles, while focusing on his work. Fleda spends her time obsessed with poetry, particularly Robert Browning, much to her husband's dismay since he would prefer she focus on a Canadian poet. When David meets Patrick, a fledgling Canadian poet, he introduces him to Fleda. Unknown to David, Patrick knows Fleda well, since he had been stalking her in the woods. In Patrick's mind, Fleda becomes intertwined with his own obsession--the landscape.
In town nearby, Maud Grady oversees the burials of the townspeople, the sick children rendered perfect in death, and the daredevils who try to take on the falls. She also waits for the inevitable "floaters": drowned, swollen bodies plucked from the water by the Old River Man, a hobo who lives by the riverbed. The narrative spins, maelstrom-like, until it reaches its crest, where obsessions unravel, old notions are dispelled, and one brave soul faced with the whirlpool decides to take the plunge. --Leah Eichler [via]