First Gray, Then White, Then Blue

Written by Margriet de Moor
Review by Meredith Campbell

“Incoherent fragments. Nothing but fragments. There is no through line in my life’s composition….” might characterize this incredible first novel. Winner of the prestigious Ako prize, this story flows like a winding river–curving here and there, taking the senses where it will, twisting with vivid descriptions and tantalizing words that change taste as the reader rolls them off the tongue. This is a love story, a murder mystery, and an enigma.

Originally from the Netherlands but moving to Canada during WWII, free-spirited Magda marries Robert, a Dutch artist. Their love is true and passionate, but Magda holds private those parts of herself Robert yearns to possess. They live in varying degrees of bliss in a Dutch seacoast village until Magda takes a bus to town to visit relatives, but from there keeps on going. She is gone for two years, telling Robert nothing. Her sojourn moves her, like a leaf on a languid stream, from one affair to another, from one shore to another until she finds herself back in her Canadian home. Eventually, she returns to Holland–to be murdered.

Robert and Magda’s best friends are Erick and Nellie and their autistic son, Gaby. Before she leaves home, Magda spends much time with Gaby talking about astronomy. She gives him books and a telescope and perhaps is his only friend. Before Magda left, Erick had become her lover, and it is he who finds her body.

Shifting points of view, person, and verb tense at times make for confusing reading. But in spots the writing is poetic beauty, whether the reader makes a connection or not. The novel presents an intellectual feast that will keep thoughts ruminating and wondering: Who was Magda, really?