I have just finished a really clever, original and charming new book by Pierre Szalowski, Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather, (Canongate Books). Skillfully translated from the French by Alison Anderson, this is a novel about the unexpectedness of life, of taking chances when you can and the way your life can open up.
It is quite a simple tale really: A 10 year old boy in Montreal asks the sky for help when his parents announce their separation. The winter cold turns into an ice storm that stops everything in the city including the power. With temperatures dropping, people who usually just nod, or ignore each other, now need to offer help or ask for it.
It is very funny and quite lovely without being sentimental or cloying. Boris, a Russian mathematician is running an experiment in his lounge involving four fish and the patterns they make in an aquarium that must be kept at 32 degrees: Julie, a dancer living across the street, on the side that still has power, offers the fish refuge in her bathtub. Urbane and secretive couple Michel and Simon risk a lot – and gain a lot – when they open their still-warm home to bad-tempered Alexis and his troubled, slightly thuggish son. But this isn’t magic-realism, it is just an unusually harsh wintry snow storm which forces people out of their usual patterns, that makes them change direction. Whether the sky can make the boy’s parents get back together is a whole other thing.
Bet you won’t be able to read it without smiling….