Dreaming in French by Vanessa McCausland

This intriguing narrative unfolds in alternate voices. The first chapter opens in the first person in the voice of Saskia who immediately tells us that she has a secret past: “I have compartmentalized this part of my life because it happened in another language, in another place. And with the fading of my understanding of the words, I was able to forget.”

Saskia’s French friend Simone has died, leaving Saskia a half share in her French seaside villa. Saskia returns to France where she spent a summer twenty years ago. As Saskia’s story of her past unfolds, McCausland relates the same events through Simone’s eyes, written in the third person, seamlessly and skillfully juxtaposed against Saskia’s narrative.

This is a terrific read for Francophiles. Set on the Ile de Re, a “remote French island”, the location of which is ambiguous, Saskia recalls a time when she was much freer than she is now. She recounts a time of discovering French food, the French language and French man who worked as a saunier – a salt farmer. But the reader is aware that the bliss ends badly; McCausland balances suspense with just the right amount of character development. Part mystery and part psychological drama, this book will also be enjoyed by anyone who once “found” themselves in another language.