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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars


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on 28 May 2010
Every character in this light comedy-satire seems to be fishing for something, although not necessarily fish or even in water. Yet, most places where the action takes place are somehow located on islands: Montreal Island, Stevenson Island, and an island off the Venezuelan coast. Finally, and not to be overlooked the "magnetic north" and the title of the novel, Nikolski, a village one of the small Aleutian islands off Alaska. Sounds a bit like a mystery story? In a way, yes, as first time Quebec novelist Nicolas Dickner spins a delightful yarn around his three primary characters, either moving to or through and/or living in Montreal until...

Noah, who, until he was eighteen, lived with his mother a nomadic life in a trailer, crisscrossing the western regions of Canada, arrives in Montreal to study archaeology and discovers the "archaeology of trash" as an intriguing topic, "trash being the artifacts of civilization" and much "fishing" is involved. Joyce, from a long line of Doucettes of dubious reputation in Atlantic Canada, pursues her ambitions to live up to the family's tradition and to become a modern-day pirate. She also goes on fishing expeditions, but of a different kind: she scrounges through industry trash to find all the bits needed to get a workable computer built and much more... Finally, a first person narrator of a kind, who runs a second-hand bookshop also has some fishing to do...

Do these characters link together in some way? Are the connections stronger than strangers meeting in the night? It is for the reader to find out. The author introduces some secondary characters, charming in their own way, who may have to offer some clues or provide connections. Along the way, Dickner's easy-going, ironic style hits a few punches at Canadian multicultural society and the modern way of life. His descriptions are off-beat yet apt, whether he describes certain areas of Montreal or of one of the other islands in the novel. The novel won the 2010 Canada Reads competition, and the sensitive and lively English translation won a major Canadian award. [Friederike Knabe]
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VINE VOICEon 8 January 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
OK, so I got this because it had a quote from David Mitchell on the cover. And, yes, you should never read a book because of a quote on the cover - context etc.

That said, I'm so glad that I did. Every so often, I watch one of those "arty" films where nothing ever happens - "Lantana" springs to mind - and I tend to come out wishing I'd gone to see Chuck Norris kicking the living daylights out of someone instead. This book is the literary equivalent of one of those films: there's no "action", there's not much in the way of plot, no-one dies. The major difference between, say, "Lantana" and "Nikolski" is that none of this matters. What this story is absolutely packed with is characters and character development, and it's a treat from start to finish. The writing is often beautiful, and the characters, whilst quirky, never cross the line into irritating.

The ending may annoy some readers, as it leaves several loose ends untied but I'm actually glad that it does, since you can apply your own interpretation.

In the last few months, I've read detective novels, autobiographies, murder mysteries and musical biographies (amongst others): no one book gripped me and made me want to carry on reading like "Nikolski" did.

A rare pleasure.
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on 5 January 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A short, lovely, inconsequential story about the interconnectedness of people, places and things. Three people move in and out of each other's lives, most of them never meet, barely noticing each other on the rare occasions when their lives do touch.

One was born on the road, one travels far from home, one never leaves the district of Montreal where he was born; all of them are linked by garbage, pirates, a battered book with no cover and a cheap plastic compass whose needle points unerringly to the tiny Aleutian Island town of Nikolski.

The essence of these stories is the beauty of the small; fantastically detailed, perfectly observed and beautifully told, this is a delight of a book about the magic of the incidental, everyday stuff of life. Nothing much happens. No one goes to Nikolski.
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VINE VOICEon 26 October 2009
This book is packed full of imaginative ideas. It's quirky and intersting, like its characters. There's some wonderful use of language too. A good read.
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VINE VOICEon 7 January 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As a fan of quirky witty books and the TV series Northern Exposure, I greatly enjoyed this well crafted tale of 3 people connected to the Alaskan / Aluetian Island town Nikolski. The un-named narrator works in a secondhand bookshop in Montreal and owns a compass which is the only item left from his father's life. It points to Nikolski, a small place in Alaska, the last known place where his father lived. Noah may share the same father, Joyce is related to Noah's father and according to tales told by her grandpa, who lives in a rickety house on the outskirts of her village, has pirate ancestors. Noah and Joyce end up in a Montreal fish shop where Joyce works and Noah lives, although they never meet there. Their lives also intertwine with the narrator, mainly because of a mysterious book about pirates which started life at Liverpool University and has travelled around the world. As a bookcrosser, I was particularly tickled by the important part this book plays in the story. The book is gracefully translated and the narrative flows beautifully. It is also beautifully produced, with pictures of fish as chapter headings. I found this book a pleasure to look at and read.
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VINE VOICEon 15 January 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A book with a triptych of narratives which float around each other but never quite connect. This is a novel which revels in transience and movement - from forced re-location, to migration, to individuals trying to escape into a new life. Everyone is on the move here and no one stands still for long. The narrative also takes in fish, archaeology, pirates, history and politics. This is an excellent novel with no real beginning, middle or end - as it's characters are it just is.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a strange little book, and that seems to sell lately. Normally, if I was to write of a book that it is vague, has a tendency to wander all the over the place and, having eventually reached the end, resolves nothing much, this would be a bad thing. In Nikolski, it works, and it works quite well. The stories of the three main characters of the book are told in alternating chapters ... and they never quite meet up.

That's the thing with Nikolski.

Three different stories are told, linked together by the mysterious figure of Jonas Doucet, and, while the stories do intersect briefly as the characters bump into each other near the end, the stories never join and the characters merely carry on with their own lives, and their own separate narratives.

That is one of the charms of Nikolski: it's unusualness, the sense that you are reading something quite new and fresh, but it's also one of its weaknesses: the end is rather anti-climactic. No, that is wrong: there is never any sense in Nikolski of even approaching a climax, a resolution, and that's a shame for a book that's otherwise as good as Nikolski.
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on 9 February 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I find it quite hard to articulate the reason for my disappointment with Nikolski. At one level I suppose it's the traditionalist in me that enjoys novels that have structure and story. Nikolski, by contrast, introduces three characters, charts a little of their inconsequential life stories, and then drifts off. It's pleasantly enough written (and translated), but there's nothing of substance to pull you into the book. Even a couple of days after finishing the book, I would struggle to recall a single set of the events that occurred or even the names of two of the three characters (I remember Noah).

I accept that I'm not a literary buff, but surely there needs to be more to a book than a pleasant diversion. Maybe if you enjoy books where struggling to fathom meaning and themes replaces an interest in the story, this may be your cup of tea.
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VINE VOICEon 19 August 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I found the book to be good, but not amazing. It kept me gripped but not enthralled.

In short, the nameless narrator has a compass given to him by his now deceased father. It is his only memory of him, the only thing is that this compass does not point absolutely North, but to a village called Nikolski, hence the name of the novel.

The story introduces two further characters Noah and Joyce. Through the different chapters you learn about the three separate lives and how they eventually cross. Sometimes you really need to be thinking hard to work out which character is being spoken about and which other person is related to who.

It is interesting trying to work out and seeing exactly where and how each characters paths cross.

Definitely worth reading, but not at the top of the list.
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on 6 July 2011
I enjoyed the book. Read it.

There are lots of loose ends, lots of far fetched confluences, and lots of interesting characters left hanging.

It is a tribute that I loved all the characters (even the minor ones)and would have loved to know more about them. The author is cleary very talented.

In the end I took the book for what I guess it intended to do, saying something about the way people and events flow around each other and how we only ever get fragments of a big and complex picture. It had echoes of what I have found in researching family genealogy. Perhaps when we are all absorbed in Facebook, Twitter, and Friends and Genes reunited etc. the day will dawn when all is resolved - but perhaps not.
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