Touch by Alexi Zentner (thoughts)
Alexei happens to be my favourite Russian name ever (it’s pronounced ah-lek-SYAY and the nickname is Aloysha, ahl-YOSH-a), so when I began seeing reference to debut Canadian author Alexi (close enough) Zenter’s novel Touch, I was already halfway towards wanting to read it. The gorgeous covers all pushed me even closer, and then Kim’s post made me run to my library catalogue and put in a hold request. It arrived during one of my reading slumps, but one afternoon I was so desperate that I just decided to start as many books as it took for me to get hooked on one. Fortunately, Touch was towards the top of the pile, and I quickly found myself entranced.
The novel opens with a middle-aged man returning home in the 1940s, and most of the story revolves around his memories from his childhood, including stories his grandfather told him. This happens to be one of my very favourite literary devices: it injects a tone of nostalgia that I almost always enjoy, and it lets the author ‘get away with’ more character self-introspection than would otherwise make sense. Touch also has one of my other favourite bookish qualities: a strong sense of place. It’s set in a small Canadian logging town in British Columbia, and I wandered the forest, floated up the river, and endured the long winters along with the characters. I shivered a few times, even though it was over a hundred degrees outside: Zentner’s descriptive powers are just wonderful. He also handles the various storylines and time periods with aplomb; I never felt lost or confused.
The book has a definite gothic flavour to it, with aspects of taboo and tragedy and isolation, and even a hint of the supernatural. I know I’m not the only one who perks up at that possibility. I wouldn’t call this an absolutely perfect book (there were a few bits I would have liked to see a bit more fleshed out), but I definitely loved it. I highly recommend it, especially to anyone who prizes a strongly atmospheric read. I just have my fingers crossed that Zentner will publish many more books in the future.
Suggested Companion Reads
- A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore (Another wonderful chilly, neo-gothic, historical novel by a
CanadianBrit (why did I think she was Canadian? weird); this one is set in England, though.)
- In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming (The only things this one has in common are a priest protagonist and wonderfully chilly atmosphere, but I thought that was reason enough to include it. ;) )
- Fall on Your Knees by Ann Marie Macdonald (Another neogothic, historical Canadian read, this one set on the other side of the country!)