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The Language of Sand    by Ellen Block order for
Language of Sand
by Ellen Block
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2010 (2010)
Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Abigail Harker, the heroine of Ellen Block's elegant and engaging The Language of Sand, is a lexicographer who 'edited dictionaries for a living', and often muses on the meanings of words. 'Facts, proof, and reasoning were her cardinal directions, while logic acted as the map with which she navigated the world, keeping her on course and helping her maintain her bearings.' But now Abigail has lost her way, and emotions far from logic drive her from a Boston suburb to the North Carolina coast, where she takes the last ferry of the day to Chapel Isle.

Abigail has lost her husband Paul, small son Justin, and most of her possessions in a freak fire. It was Paul who told her about Chapel Isle, where he'd spent his childhood summers. They had planned to vacation there. Now, after replying to an ad for a lighthouse keeper, Abigail has come on her own. She finds the caretaker's cottage in disarray. In renovating it, she meets and befriends several quirky characters, including Merle (who owns the hardware store) and café owner Ruth. She also hears of the lighthouse ghost (a previous keeper, Mr. Jasper) and - after experiencing odd occurrences - attempts to appease him.

As Abby gets to know the island's inhabitants (some friendly, some hostile) she encounters various mysteries - the history that troubles the spectral Mr. Jasper; thefts from holiday cottages; and the sudden death of a grieving widower, of which his unpopular and bad-tempered friend, Clint Wertz, is immediately suspected. This all comes to a head at the same time as a hurricane veers towards Chapel Isle. After the storm, Abigail finds her bearings once more. 'She'd been haunted by never ... From the top of the lighthouse, with the whole world to behold, never was suddenly beside the point. It was only a word.'

The Language of Sand is an appealing tale that incorporates lexicography (each chapter opens on a relevant dictionary definition of unusual words ranging from abecedarian to zetetic), a haunted lighthouse, and a woman navigating her way out of the stormy seas of grief and loss after devastating tragedy. It's a delightful, highly recommended read.

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