Mirror Lake, by French-Canadian internationally acclaimed crime writer Andrée A. Michaud, is an arresting, surrealist thriller that is propelled by a deeply relatable yet comically unlikable protagonist. Robert Moreau is a fifty-something retiree who abruptly left behind his family and friends, with only his loyal dog Jeff as company, to start anew in what he imagined would be a Walden-like tranquility. To his misfortune, the titular lake proves to be anything but tranquil, instead seeming to be the source of the tragicomic antics that follow.
Moreau’s self-professed misanthropic nature has a modicum of comedy, reminiscent of Fredrik Backman’s Ove, that is largely characterized by his stinging commentary, such as his description upon meeting his new neighbor Bob Winslow:
…the man who’d just soiled the virginity I’d been a bit too quick to assign to Mirror Lake ascended onto my porch without an invitation, moving with the joviality of a simple man who fails to see the world is a place of suffering and that he is one of the principal elements fanning the flames of this hell.
Yet it is Moreau’s intellect that makes his words all the more biting. He is a cinephile, a bookworm, and also clearly a lover of music as shown by his heavy use of, oftentimes obscure, cultural references. As his faultfinder tendencies might suggest, Moreau is extremely particular about his word choice, which fortunately for the reader, means the use of rich, sensory language that appeals to the ears through descriptive imagery (“a set of bells gently chimed its bittersweet melody, a loon began its lament, an oar sliced through the water’s clear surface with a shushing sound that evoked the indifference of slowness”) as much as through the rhythmic nature of the words themselves (“turbulence, turpitude, and tribulation”).
Through this impeccable use of language, courtesy of author Michaud and translator J. C. Sutcliffe, Mirror Lake creates a satisfying balance between a psychological thriller and comedy. The novel provides the same driving sensation felt when reading a quickly unraveling mystery, yet the punctuated comedic anecdotes, such as the throughline of Moreau’s love for an onion affectionately named Ping, provides levity that suggests the book doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Through the absurdity, Mirror Lake still manages to provide a reflection on society (pun intended), asking the reader to consider what forms a person’s identity: Their physical likeness? Their relationships with others? Their internal constitution?
This book left me with questions but also with an appetite for discussion, making it an ideal book for group reading (I would love to hear the thoughts of others!). I found it thoroughly enjoyable though my enjoyment came primarily from my love of language and for the depth of Moreau’s character rather than a strict appreciation for the plot. That being said, I must admit that I do not often read, let alone review, either thrillers or books veering into the absurd, so what was a fresh change of pace for me could actually be paramount for readers more attuned with the genre. For anyone, regardless of genre preferences, seeking an equally lovable and hateable narrator or a light-hearted read that still packs a literary punch, Mirror Lake has you covered.
Thank you to Edelweiss+ by Above the Treeline and House of Anansi Press Inc. for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.