The Opposing Shore by Julien Gracq (translated by Richard Howard)

If you want a world described in such a way that you can feel it and see it with such clarity in your own mind’s eye then look no further than the Opposing Shore by Julien Grecq.

The Opposing Shore is a remarkable book in the way in describes the world around you in such a way that you can almost see and feel it as it is written in such a poetic way.

The story itself is about Aldo an aristocrat who gets a commission to work for the Admiralty where he has been posted to the coastal town of Syrtes to observe the borders of the sea for any sight or report of a rival nation who though technically at war with, they have not seen any form of violence with this nation for hundreds of years due to an old ceasefire that is till being upheld.

Among Aldo’s time on duty we see what he sees and thinks in the first person and he has a good way in describing not only the world around him, mainly where the Admiralty have sent him but what has been said to him with his interactions with others and most impressively, Aldo is good at describing what has not been said with respect to certain gestures and glances.

The style of the book and the way Aldo speaks has the feel of a 19th Century pastiche. The kingdom of Orsenna of which Aldo is a member of has the feel of a southern European Mediterranean nation maybe of the renaissance era. The rival nation of Farghestan which is relatively unknown to us but has the suffix of -stan suggesting it is an eastern nation very different to Orsenna.

Social class is a topic in this book. Aldo among some other characters are of the aristocracy and when we get to here about their views on their worlds and how they view their own traditions. We also get to witness their relationship with characters from other classes (mainly Fabrizio).

The main theme however, tends to be about Aldo’s boredom with his post and how far he would go to defeat such boredom possibly at the cost of breaking the ceasefire that lasted so long between the two nations. We also get the trope of a lady (Vanessa in this case) leading Aldo astray to do something he possibly should not.

I can see The Opposing Shore being a book that is possibly not for everyone especially with respect to the old style prose however, it did flow quite well and the more you read about Aldo’s world and his story, the more you want to stay in it. Aldo has such away of describing tension and atmosphere that makes it feel real and not contrived in anyway or make me want to roll my eyes. The more you read of it the more you become aware of what affect Aldo’s actions will affect his world.

This mostly what I have thought after just finished reading it and eventually I would like to go back to it again to reflect on it. I am aware that there is getting to be a longer list of books I have already read to look back at again, I can’t promise anything but it something I would like to do.

[First published in French in 1951, this edition Harvill (Harper Collins) 1993]