The Prospector by the Nobel prize winning novelist J.M.G. Le Clezio is an ode to yearning, and to the sea. The protagonist is madly in love with the sea and much of his striving in this novel is about finding an existence that will allow him to remain suspended in it, forever. The play of light on water, the sounds of waves, the primal act of fishing the sea for sustenance, are all things that Alexis experiences with awe and intense reverence. The quest for the lost treasure of childhood, and memory itself, is expressed through the transparent allegory of a hunt for a buried pirate treasure. Hunting for treasure is like hunting for something that the past has hidden; through the cryptic paper scraps and detritus of the past (such as a pirate’s map), we try to discover what is hidden. Hunting for treasure is a loving act of memory trying to put “together” the pieces and render whole what time has hidden. The treasure hunt is also like writing, a form of “prospecting” that seeks to give meaning to the cryptic geography of what is no more.
I recently read Pierre and Virginia by Bernardin St. Pierre, which is set on the island of Mauritius, like The Prospector. St. Pierre’s novel, one of the most popular books of the late 18th century, and the first half of the 19th century, is mirrored repeatedly in Le Clezio’s novel. Alexis and his sister Laure are Pierre and Virginia. Alexis and his love Omou are Pierre and Virginia. Throughout, in both novels, we see the theme of loss, nostalgia and the adoration of nature. The Prospector is much more elegiac than Pierre and Virginia, which has a strong shot of sensation and melodrama in it.
Reading The Prospector is a little like putting a shell to your ear and hearing the sea inside of oneself. It’s quiet and hypnotic, meditative, entrancing.