David Bouchard scores with this quirky concoction of history, art, nature, and folk songs. The Journal of Etienne Mercier, like Bouchard’s previous If You’re Not from the Prairies and The Colours of British Columbia, is a book for most ages.
Pushing successfully at the parameters traditionally associated with picture books, Bouchard’s new work is the fictionalized diary of a trapper who took an 1853 trip to document, in words and drawings, the world of the Haida in the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Between its gold-accented covers, The Journal has the look of an old diary. Its sepia-toned pages show signs of aging at the outer edges. Its double-spaced text, in italic font, recalls script of the period. Gordon Miller, acclaimed for his paintings and illustrations of native life, creates an air of authenticity with 14 detailed pen-and-ink sketches, 13 wonderfully dramatic full-page colour paintings, and two maps.
Storywise, Mercier’s first entry establishes his background and his cheerful, companionable disposition. Subsequent entries reveal an open-minded curiosity, a good sense of humour, and a firm commitment to friendship. By incorporating Mercier’s style of speech (his first language is French, his second language English), Bouchard adds colour to the journal. Mercier writes as he speaks – in franglais, which may cause language purists to cringe.
In just 23 pages of text, Bouchard delivers an amazingly effective introduction to the people, customs, languages, and wildlife of the time. Verses from 10 French and French-Canadian folk songs, again in franglais, are an enjoyable bonus. Throughout, Bouchard weaves a riddle: Who is Clement, the lost friend Mercier hopes to find during his journey?
In the companion CD, tucked into the inside back cover, Bouchard brings the journal to life as he reads Mercier’s entries and sings his songs. Bouchard’s lively mellow delivery, enhanced by such sounds as birdsong, lapping waves, and beating drums, makes both a fitting conclusion and an introduction to this innovative glimpse of Canadian history.