Coastliners

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Overview

The island of Le Devin is shaped somewhat like a sleeping woman. At her head is the village of Les Salants, while the more prosperous village of La Houssinière lies at her feet. You could walk from one to the other in an hour, but they could not be farther apart, for between them lie years of animosity.

The villagers of Les Salants say that if you kiss the feet of their patron saint and spit three times, something you've lost will come back to you. And so Madeleine, who grew up ...

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Coastliners

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Overview

The island of Le Devin is shaped somewhat like a sleeping woman. At her head is the village of Les Salants, while the more prosperous village of La Houssinière lies at her feet. You could walk from one to the other in an hour, but they could not be farther apart, for between them lie years of animosity.

The villagers of Les Salants say that if you kiss the feet of their patron saint and spit three times, something you've lost will come back to you. And so Madeleine, who grew up on the island, returns after an absence of ten years spent in Paris. She is haunted by this place and has never been able to feel at home anywhere else.

But when she arrives, she finds her father — who once built the fishing boats that fueled the village's livelihood — has become more silent than ever, withdrawing almost completely. His decline seems reflected in the village itself, for when the only beach in Les Salants washed away, all of the tourists drifted to La Hodssinière.

Madeleine, herself adrift for a long time, soon finds herself united with the village's other lost souls in a struggle for survival and salvation.

Performed by Vivien Benesch

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Editorial Reviews

Beth Kephart
In 1999 Harris burst onto the scene with Chocolat, a simple tale of sometimes quirky charm that captivated both a large readership and Hollywood executives. With Coastliners, her fourth novel in four years, Harris introduces readers to a sleepy French island and a narrator, Mado, who has returned to the place after many years away and quickly asserts herself in the mysterious politics of the locals. At issue here is the land itself—the way the sand has leaked away into the sea at one end of the island, and the way a savvy businessman on the island's other end is taking rather suspicious advantage of the tides. In seeking to rescue the part of the island that was her childhood home, Mado reenters the world of her nearly mute and disturbed father, becomes embroiled in local politics, falls in love and happens across the long-hidden secrets of her family. Impressively researched and filled to the brim with surprising plot twists, this deeply felt book is the best work yet of this prolific writer.
Publishers Weekly
Family history meets village rivalry in Harris's poignant fourth novel, an understated passion play set on the provincial French island of Le Devin. Madeleine Prasteau leaves her Paris apartment to return to the island village of Les Salants, where she discovers that her father, a widowed boat owner, is going downhill along with the village itself as the rival town of La Houssini re grows and prospers. Despite her father's chilly greeting, Madeleine spruces up the family home, and when she meets an attractive, mysterious stranger named Flynn she gets involved in a project to save Les Salants by building a homemade reef to restore the fast-eroding beach. The project gets complicated when Madeleine realizes that Flynn has ties to Brismand, a rival of her father's, who controls local commerce in La Houssini re. The reef project succeeds, but with a bitter aftertaste when Madeleine's older sister, Adrienne, moves back to the island and her father becomes infatuated with Adrienne's children. Sibling rivalry fades to the background when Madeleine learns that Flynn's ties to Brismand extend into her own family history, and she discovers that Flynn was an integral part of a romantic triangle involving her father and Brismand. Harris develops her beguiling story in layers, drawing Madeleine into the village life she loves and loathes while exploring the nuances of island living. Despite the narrowly focused setting, Harris exposes a wide range of passions and emotions as Madeline gets involved with Flynn against the effective backdrop of the various family and village rivalries. This book lacks the lurid erotic power of Chocolat, but Harris compensates for the lowered levels of passion and eros by writing with power and grace about the family ties that bind. 6-city author tour. (Sept.) Forecast: Chocolat and Five Quarters of the Orange were bestsellers, and Coastliners should match their performance so long as readers don't balk at the absence of a culinary hook.
Library Journal
As in her previous work, Harris (Chocolat) is a master at the long, quiet, atmospheric novel in which it appears that nothing much is happening. Here she describes the rich and rough shoreline of Le Devin, a small French island with a quickly eroding coastline, inhabited by generations of families whose feuds are the equal of the Montagues and the Capulets. Then there are smaller feuds between fishermen and tourist-mongers, plus a vague family feud between Madeleine and her sister Adrienne. At first it seems nothing much is happening, until we realize that landscape approaches the level of metaphor, and while listeners were dreamily lost in her lush descriptions read by Vivienne Benesch, the author has portrayed the lives of her characters as changing dramatically, and irreversibly. Only in the last third of the book do things happen quickly, and importantly enough one is tempted to go back and replay other sections. Yes, all the seeds are there, and we should have guessed them, but it's a tribute to Harris's writing that we did not. While a few events are clich d and almost predictable, there are enough surprises to satisfy listeners. Short, clearly focused chapters make this ideal for long, quiet drives, or while resting lazily before sleep. Highly recommended.-Rochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News," New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Boston Herald
“[Harris] proves she doesn’t need pantry ingredients to cook up a delectable story.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060517830
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/28/2002
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 8 Cassettes
  • Product dimensions: 4.30 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 2.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Joanne Harris is the author of seven previous novels—Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange, Coastliners, Holy Fools, Sleep, Pale Sister, and Gentlemen & Players; a short story collection, Jigs & Reels; and two cookbook/memoirs, My French Kitchen and The French Market. Half French and half British, she lives in England.

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First Chapter

Chapter One

I returned after ten years' absence, on a hot day in late August, on the eve of summer's first bad tides. As I stood watching the approach from the deck of Brismand 1, the old ferry into La Houssinière, it was almost as though I had never left. Nothing had changed: the sharp smell of the air; the deck beneath my feet; the sound of the gulls in the hot blue sky. Ten years, almost half my life, erased at a single stroke, like writing in the sand. Or almost.

I'd brought scarcely any luggage, and that reinforced the illusion. But I'd always traveled light. We both had, Mother and I; there had never been much to weigh us down. And at the end it had been I who paid the rent for our Paris flat, working in a dingy late-night café to supplement the income from the paintings Mother hated so much, while she struggled with her emphysema and pretended not to know she was dying.

All the same I should have liked to have returned wealthy, successful. To show my father how well we'd managed without his help. But my mother's small savings had run out long ago, and my own -- a few thousand francs in a Crédit Maritime; a folder of unsold paintings -- amounted to little more than we'd taken with us the day we left. Not that it mattered. I was not planning to stay. However potent the illusion of time suspended, I had another life now. I had changed.

No one looked at me twice as I stood slightly apart from the others on the deck of the Brismand 1. It was high season, and there were already a good number of tourists aboard. Some were even dressed as I was, in sailclothtrousers and fisherman's vareuse -- that shapeless garment halfway between a shirt and a jacket -- town people trying too hard not to look it. Tourists with rucksacks, suitcases, dogs, and children stood crammed together on the deck among crates of fruit and groceries, cages of chickens, mailbags, boxes. The noise was appalling. Beneath it, the hissshh of the sea against the ferry's hull and the screee of gulls. My heart was pounding with the surf.

As Brismand 1 neared the harbor I let my eyes travel across the water toward the esplanade. As a child I had liked it here; I'd often played on the beach, hiding under the fat bellies of the old beach huts while my father conducted whatever business he had at the harbor. I recognized the faded Choky parasols on the terrasse of the little café where my sister used to sit; the hot dog stand; the gift shop. It was perhaps busier than I remembered; a straggling row of fishermen with pots of crabs and lobsters lined the quay, selling their catch. I could hear music from the esplanade; below it, children played on a beach that, even at high tide, seemed smoother and more generous than I remembered. Things were looking good for La Houssinière.

I let my eyes roam along the Rue des Immortelles, the main street, which runs parallel to the seafront. I could see three people sitting there side by side in what had once been my favorite spot: the seawall below the esplanade overlooking the bay. I remembered sitting there as a child, watching the distant gray jawbone of the mainland, wondering what was there. I narrowed my eyes to see more clearly; even from halfway across the bay I could see that two of the figures were nuns.

I recognized them now as the ferry drew close -- Soeur Extase and Soeur Thérèse, Carmelite volunteers from the nursing home at Les Immortelles, were already old before I was born. I felt oddly reassured that they were still there. Both nuns were eating ice creams, their habits hitched up to their knees, bare feet dangling over the parapet. The man sitting beside them, face obscured by a wide-brimmed hat, could have been anyone.

The Brismand 1 drew alongside the jetty. A gangplank was raised into place, and I waited for the tourists to disembark. The jetty was as crowded as the boat; vendors stood by selling drinks and pastries; a taxi driver advertised his trade; children with trolleys vied for the attention of the tourists. Even for August, it was busy.

“Carry your bags, mademoiselle?” A round-faced boy of about fourteen, wearing a faded red T-shirt, tugged at my sleeve. “Carry your bags to the hotel?”

“I can manage, thanks.” I showed him my tiny case.

The boy gave me a puzzled glance, as if trying to place my features. Then he shrugged and moved on to richer pickings.

The esplanade was crowded. Tourists leaving; tourists arriving; Houssins in between. I shook my head at an elderly man attempting to sell me a knot work key ring; it was Jojo-le-Goëland, who used to take us for boat rides in summer, and although he'd never been a friend -- he was an Houssin, after all -- I felt a pang that he hadn't recognized me.

“Are you staying here? Are you a tourist?” It was the round-faced boy again, now joined by a friend, a dark-eyed youth in a leather jacket who was smoking a cigarette with more bravado than pleasure. Both boys were carrying suitcases.

“I'm not a tourist. I was born in Les Salants.”

“Les Salants?”

“Yes. My father's Jean Prasteau. He's a boatbuilder. Or was, anyway.”

“GrosJean Prasteau!” Both boys looked at me with open curiosity.

They might have said more, but just then three other teenagers joined us. The biggest addressed the round-faced boy with an air of authority.

“What are you Salannais doing here again, heh?” he demanded. “The seafront belongs to the Houssins, you know that. You're not allowed to take luggage to Les Immortelles!”

“Who...”

Coastliners. Copyright © by Joanne Harris. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

An Introduction to Coastliners

The island called Le Devin is shaped somewhat like a sleeping woman. At her head is the tumbledown village of Les Salants, while the more prosperous and tourist-friendly town of La Houssinière lies at the crook of her knees. Connected by a narrow strip of land, these towns could not feel further apart, for they are separated by a legacy of rivalry and a longstanding enmity.

The townspeople of Les Salants say that if you kiss the feet of their patron saint and spit three times, something you've lost will come back to you. And so Madeleine Prasteau, who grew up on the island, returns after an absence of ten years spent in Paris. She is haunted by this place, can paint nothing else, and has never been able to feel at home anywhere but in its sandy dunes.

When she arrives, she finds that her father -- who once built the fishing boats that fueled the town's livelihood -- has become more silent than ever, withdrawing almost completely into an interior world. And his decline seems reflected in the town itself, for when the only beach in Les Salants literally washes away, the soul and energy of this humble seaside village seem to disappear with it.

Madeleine is determined to rescue Les Salants from a certain death, and she enlists many of the resistant locals with the covert aid of a charismatic outsider, Flynn. Adrift for a long time herself, almost against her will Madeleine finds herself united with the village's other lost souls in a struggle for survival and salvation.

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you characterize the villages of Les Salants and LaHoussinière? What are some of the advantages each has over the other? How does Les Immortelles play a role in this power dynamic? Were you surprised by the tensions between the Sallanais and the Houssins? Did their conflict remind you of any other rivalry?

  2. What explains Mado Prasteau's return to Les Salants? How does she earn a living? How would you describe her relationships with her mother and father?

  3. The festival of Sainte-Marine-de-la-Mer is one of the traditional religious celebrations of the village of Les Salants. What happens when Mado makes eye contact with her father during the shoreside ritual? Who helps restore the Saint to the village?

  4. How would you describe Jean-Claude Brismand's relationship with Mado? What does he offer her in exchange for her father's land? What is his connection to Adrienne Prasteau? Did you find him a sympathetic character? Why or why not?

  5. What does the attempted rescue of the Eleanore reveal about tensions between La Houssinière and Les Salants? How do the Bastonnet and Guénolé families respond? How do the Salannais feel toward Mado after this?

  6. Who is Rouget/Richard Flynn? How does Mado first become acquainted with him? What questionable behavior does she catch him involved in? How does he help the people of Les Salants?

  7. How does the return of the Saint to her niche affect the villagers of Les Salants? How do the nuns, Soeur Thérèse and Soeur Extase, interpret her reappearance? How does her return lead the Salannais to build the artificial reef?

  8. Analyze some of the complicated sibling relationships in Coastliners. Focus on P'titJean and GrosJean Prasteau, and Mado and Adrienne Prasteau in your discussion.

  9. How does the appearance of new sand on Les Salants reanimate its inhabitants? What other positive developments occur in the village as a result of the changing coastline?

  10. How does the threat of the oil spill galvanize the Salannais? What transformation in the villagers is evident at second festival of Sainte-Marine-de-la-Mer? What Black Tide eventually turns up on the beaches of Les Salants? How is this benign Black Tide accomplished?

About Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris is the author of Five Quarters of the Orange, Blackberry Wine, and Chocolat, and the upcoming Holy Fools. Half-French and half-British, Harris lives in England.

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Customer Reviews

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( 17 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2006

    A reviewer

    coastliners was just as fantastic as all of joanne harris's other novels, except easier to relate to. The storyline is ingenious, its filled with twists, and its written with alot of depth, and emotion. i loved that book

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2012

    War Zone to all

    Yes. You may join. I am leader of Fang pacj and yiur allies. I take it ice is not on a whole lot. Buy start recruiting. In her absence i appoint sendra to commder. Its the highest besides betas d alphas. Luna your a leutenant of bwhixh ther are two. Any mode questions cpme to war forever.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2012

    Ie hello

    Hello Ice

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2011

    LOVE this author!

    Can always count on her to give you an enjoyable tale full of interesting connections and insights into her characters. You never want to leave them. Wraps up a neat package and ties a bow at the top at the end. This book doesn't disapoint.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2010

    more of the same

    my wife loves this author & bn had it on clearance sale so i was very happy to get it as a gift. we seem to be buying all of this author's books

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2005

    Interesting

    I confess that I felt like I was wading in mud up to my knees for the first half of this book, but I am so glad that I stuck with it. It is such an interesting insight into people. I don't quite have words to define the insight. I just know that I really enjoy the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2003

    a good beach read

    This is the first Joanne Harris book that I¿ve read, and, aside from the difficulty of keeping track of French character names, it was an easy, enjoyable read. There are many family themes at work here--inter-family feuds, intra-family estrangements, skeletons in the closet. The book is also about coming home, re-establishing a sense of belonging, and the evolution of a community. Mado, the main character and narrator, is likeable, and it¿s easy to relate to her initial frustration with the villagers' pessimism that stymies any motivation to work together for positive change. A lot of loose ends are left unaddressed, though, and I had the feeling that they were forgotten or ignored, rather than intentionally left to the reader's imagination.

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    Posted June 17, 2010

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