Rachel Marston

Christien Gholson's A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind

Gholson, Christien. A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind. Cardigan: Parthian, 2011.

Christien Gholson’s debut novel, A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind, begins as the small town of Villon awakes to pastures and gardens and streets full of fish.  Where did the fish come from and why? Are they an act of God, of retribution, of magic? It is April 8, 1987, the day of Saint Woelfred’s festival. An eco-rally is planned for the same day to protest the cement factory’s plan to store toxic waste in their empty quarries.  This is the morning that the fish appear. Their strange presence permeates the book, but does not dominate it.  Rather, the oddity functions as one of the many threads connecting six individuals and the questions they have about desire, longing, uncertainty, and belief.

Gholson deftly weaves all these narrative strands, each a distinct voice, each possessing a lyricality specific to the character and her desires, but each echoing the others. The narratives intersect not only in the beauty of their prose, but also in the preoccupations, as if structured by Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious. 

We are swept along by the language of the book, like in a dream, racing toward the rally, as the day and the past unfold.  All the characters ask what is and is not real, what is illusion and what is not, and how do we fully experience our lives in the midst of such uncertainty. Gholson’s novel asks us to also surrender to this space, the illusion of language and desire and control, caught up like a fish in the wind.

From the first sentence, when young Philippe Souzain discovers the fish, Gholson’s prose transports us to the intimate town, where lives intersect, overlap, and converge. Guy, “The Illusionist,” is a native of Villon, injured while working in the factory, and now a trained magician. He and Liesl, “The Stranger,” a “failed biologist” turned writer, have embarked on an uncertain love affair. Liesl writes essays on “the false promise that science will cure all our ills” and has spent two months in Villon to write about the factory’s plans.  She asked Guy to perform an illusion at the rally, but he sees his “[m]otives – slippery as fish. He still wasn’t sure why he was performing today.  A political act? An act of love? An act for love?” The rally may be Liesl’s last day there.

Casimir, “The Player,” lives in a large, cold stone house, where he builds strange creatures and wonder cabinets, full of  “stone birds; stones of all shapes and sizes; a few dolls’ heads…; jars of exotic lizards…. – the million and one things of civilisation”.  He possesses Arthur Rimbaud’s lost poems, handed down through his family. Marie Ledoux, “The Seer,” can inhabit the lives of those whose objects she touches. Her husband is the town drunk and Casimir her recent lover.  

Father Leo, “The Lover,” has tried to save Marie, has tried to save the people of the town. His meditative lyrical litany about the fish “ …and that fish is Christ…and Christ is love, the first fish…/ …and the first fish breathed over the surface of the waters”moves through his sections like a chant. And finally, there is Raoul, born and raised in Villon, who appears only in memory or in letters to Liesl, as he pursues Rimbaud’s lost poems.