Thursday, June 26, 2014

Submergence - J. M. Ledgard

Submergence is one of those books that I am not sure exactly how it made its way onto my On Reserve list. Perhaps an article or a mention in another book. Who knows. Wherever it came from, I am so grateful it crossed my path.

The novel, a highly non-linear piece, follows two very different lives. In one subplot, a British secret agent is captured by Somali terrorists. Meanwhile, an oceanographer studies the hadalpelagic zone of the ocean and prepares to visit these deepest, darkest places in a submarine. The two are connected by a few days shared at a French hotel for Christmas past.

The title applies most obviously to the oceanographer. Her deep sea studies require submergence in the most basic form. The word applies to the other two stories as well, though. The captured intelligence officer is submerged in the desert culture of Somali jihadists. He may as well be on the bottom of the ocean for as much freedom and chance of escape he has. While both the protaganists are enveloped in their unique circumstances, they each recall back to the snowy days spent together on the French coast. For those brief days, they were submerged in each other and in the isolated setting.

Submergence is a book where it takes a while to catch on to exactly what is happening. Thankfully, I do not mind that. I kind of like the challenge of jumping into the middle of things and sorting out the details - at least within reason and if the book is well written. Ledgard meets both of those expectations.

Ledgard inserts a lot of fascinating information into the story. Suddenly, in the midst of things, you are reading about something completely unconnected to the characters - and yet it's somehow entirely relevant. This technique caught me off guard at first, but I quickly fell in love with it. I love learning and can never get quite enough information, so to have a wonderful novel supplemented by trivia of sorts was really enjoyable for me.

The writing itself is beautiful. It's hard to capture exactly, so I'll let his words speak for themselves:

  • "He had a sense that perhaps it was that tolerance of the distinctive that separated Europe from America. The United States talked about individuality, but delivered the unvaried and replicated."
  • "there is never a moment in a life when a selfish heart is satisfied."
  • "Ocean flight is, by contrast, a journey inward, toward blindness."
  • "It came back to the weather. The clouds that covered up the stars in England, the seasons of drizzle there, the mists, the storms, the trees losing their leaves, all of it made a mockery of Bedouin absolutes."
  • "Man's fixation with facades, with outward appearances, was another reason why there was not more interest in oceanography."
At first, it seemed strange to have a book be about both the deepest oceans and the desert. Yet, Ledgard brought them together in a way I did not think possible. He interjects subtle comparisons throughout the book and you slowly realize the how the unchanging qualities of each setting reflections the other. He even refers to the desert as "a sea at the center of the word." Like I said, beautiful writing.

I definitely recommend this book. It's unique, no doubt about that, but so rewarding. I would not suggest it for everyone. It's a book that will require something of you, the reader; but, it gives much more than it takes. 

Pages: 208
Date Completed: May 31, 2014

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