Eden Robinsons Monkey Beach is a thoughtfully composed novel which is demonstrated especially through the passage on page 131 which is centred around the meal of an otter on an urchin. Though the passage is not central to the plot of the novel, its appearance is important as it gives the reader a sense of atmosphere, themes, and the greater message that the book seeks to convey.
The whole passage is made dreamlike through the narrators reliance on the emotionally detached, objective use of facts and keeps the reader at a distance with the narrators unsentimental and limited depth of descriptions.
The identity of the narrator is not entirely clear, as the perspective reads as omniscient and dispassionate. The use of docile words demonstrated in the second sentence; Long streams of sunlight wash through kelp trees, undulating like lazy belly dancers. Words such as, sunlight and lazy are used to put the reader at ease. Sunlight recalls summertime, relaxation, and the light associated with goodness.
The word lazy evokes a sense of calm and peace in the reader. The tension ramps up in the following sentences with the verbs; creep, snatches, and grumble. The first two sentences set a brighter tone through their language to set the reader at ease so that they think nothing of it when certain tension promoting words seem to run against the grain. These words gradually and subconsciously build the tension until the climax of the passage, the discovery of the corpse. The differing length of sentences, from short at the beginning to lengthening as the passage progresses, gives an added depth to the building tension. This use of language and structure makes the transition from the imagery of nature and peace to the idea of death and decay conveyed by the final word in the paragraph, corpse, even more jarring.
The repetition of the urchin throughout the paragraph gives the word significance. Traditionally the urchin symbolizes fertility, as well as a danger because of its sharp spikes. The urchin in the passage does not have much control over what happens to it and is defenceless against the otters predation despite how unfriendly it appears, a lot like Lisa. Lisa seems mostly tossed around in the story from tragedy to tragedy. Through her dreams, she gets a vague warning but does not have the capabilities to change the outcome of the events of her premonition. Later in the novel, (On page 225) Lisa confides in her friends that the little man, who usually shows himself to her to foreshadow an impending tragedy, appeared before her uncle Micks death. This event haunts her because she believes that she could have prevented his death, despite the vague nature of most of her premonitions. The urchins existence is upended by the interference of the otter, who is indifferent to the urchins desires, much like the little man is indifferent to Lisa and her pleas for him to leave her alone. This illustrates the recurring theme of Lisas connection through her powers as a modern medicine woman with her heritage and spirituality through nature.
The passage is also an excellent example of the breaks from the usual narrative that regularly appear in the book. These sections appear inconsequential and confusing when they first emerge and usually investigate biological themes such as nature, anatomy, and death. As the reader progresses through the novel the significant foreshadowing presented by these sections becomes apparent. Through Lisas development as she grows and comes into her hereditary powers the reader comes to the plausible conclusion that these short breaks in the narrative are Lisas premonitions of the future. When this passage is analyzed with the context of the book in mind the corpse described is most likely that of her brother who has disappeared while at sea. The author uses emotional detachment in these narrative breaks to convey the larger theme of the text that magic is a viable way to render traumatic experience and memories.
Though the careful selection of language to build tension and set tone the reader is completely immersed in the story and held captive, as Lisa is, by the spirits and visions in the novel. The structure also serves an important purpose in the text through the organization of ideas to disarm the reader’s expectations and create a more compelling story. It is made clear how Eden Robinsons use of narrative breaks is relevant to help in the readers greater understanding of the novel as a strange and unusual bend of reality and realism.