All That Glitters

A review of All That Glitters by Martine Desjardins

Published on October 1, 2005

All That Glitters
Martine Desjardins

Talonbooks
$17.95
paper
160pp
0-88922-520-6

Martine Desjardins’ latest is a literary mystery: a compelling story marked by the fantastical, with deeply imagined characters and themes which gather in the mind after the book is closed. It is also a treasure hunt, where we as readers are searching for clues and deciphering them along with the characters.

It is 1914. Simon Dulac, a gambler and treasure-seeker from Manitoba, joins the Canadian military police as a cover for his genuine quest: the search for the legendary Knights Templar treasure rumoured to have been buried in Flanders in 1307. Dubbed Duluck for his uncanny ability to win – at dice, even with cheaters, or during war, surviving gas and bomb attacks – Dulac is used by the men in his unit as a talisman; they snip tufts of his hair and rub the bumps on his forehead.

Dulac meets Nell, a nurse “with the hands of a sorceress” who seeks to perfect the art of suturing wounds, a skill then limited to surgeons. Nell does not merely close wounds; she knits together torn and broken flesh with elaborate embroidery in silken thread, using plant extracts for her tinctures, healing and making art – even a rebus code – out of the wounds of war. Desiring Nell, Dulac risks the jealousy of his commanding officer, who is equally smitten with this seamstress of skin.

Both Dulac and Nell are arresting, transgressive characters: for them war is opportunity, a game of chance. As Dulac explains, out of destruction comes rebirth and reconfiguration. Bombed cities are reordered into mosaics of mortar, ash, and broken glass. War destroys the present, laying bare both past and future.

It would be unfair to disclose the outcome of the treasure hunt, but don’t expect cozy comfort or easy answers. All That Glitters compels and disturbs, leaving us with questions about chance and fate, love and war. mRb

Ami Sands Brodoff is completing her sixth book, the novel Treasures That Prevail. Her story collection, The Sleep of Apples, was a finalist for the International Book Awards and is now available as an audiobook.  

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