Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Salt Road

The Salt RoadThe Salt Road by Jane Johnson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had tears in my eyes while reading this book: First, out of frustration; then, ultimately, from being swept up by the story and its emotional resolution.

The Salt Road is very much a romantic book. Set in exotic Morocco and following the fate of a disappearing nomadic tribe, the novel intertwines a mystery and a story of enduring love. I settled myself for a perfect summer read, anticipating to be transported to the desert and be immersed in the nomadic culture.

Unfortunately, I was jarred by the very Western point-of-view of the book. The protagonist, Izzy, goes to Morocco after her estranged father’s death. He left her a riddle in the form of an amulet. I found her to be petty and petulant. I often thought to myself: Why does the author want her to be so unlikeable? The ending of the story does offer an explanation, but the justification and the transformation happen so quickly that we don’t really have enough time to “forgive” Izzy or Jane Johnson for Izzy’s character.

I also found that the plotting was clunky. Events happen in quick arrangement: Johnson apparently wants to get her characters into position, but I questioned her choices. For example, Izzy arrives in Morocco with her friend Eve. They are ostensibly there to do rock-climbing, their hobby, but really they are there to answer the riddle of the amulet. The two girls meet up with Miles and Jez and decide to go climbing together. On their first day out, Izzy wrenches her ankle, and through a convoluted series of ropes and levers, is left literally hanging near the bottom of the climb. Luckily, Taib, is passing by to catch her.

From that point Eve, Miles and Jez disappear from the novel. In my opinion, I would have cut them out of the story all together, have Izzy travel to Morocco on her own. Izzy, on her own in Morocco, would have provided ample material for her to be in some sort of danger and be rescued to Taib, thereby propelling the rest of the story. Despite Izzy’s persnickety behaviour, there were times when I thought: She’s my kind of woman. The only book she’d brought with her was a biography of Gertrude Bell (yes!). She has no time for her friend’s “girlie novel” as it “utterly failed to hold [her] attention after two pages of inconsequential chatter about shoes and boyfriends”(147).

To reduce the amount of characters and transitions perhaps would allow Johnson to show more and tell less. There is a list of sources at the back of the book, so she has done her research. I would just like the research to show more in the details and nuances of the book.

Lastly, until the final fifth of the book, some of the writing drove made me feel like I was “juddering over...rutted ground”. Lines like, “every tooth in my head was rattling and I was blessing the fact that I was small-breasted and supported by a good underwired bra” (203) made me wince.

On the other hand the line and the sentiment, “Love is the strongest force in the world” (373) is never trite and always a story I want to read.

The Salt Road had the potential to enrapture me with its search for a past denied. I did learn something about the Touareg people and history, but I wanted to see Izzy enter the culture more fully and develop relationships instead of hearing a lecture from one of the characters. Still, the ending left me moved: The novel does evoke the power of love.

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