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On the Proper Use of Stars [Hardcover]

Dominique Fortier , Sheila Fischman
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 7 2010
A sparkling, inventive debut novel inspired by Sir John Franklin's grand — but ultimately failed — quest to discover the Northwest Passage and by his extraordinary wife, Lady Jane.

Originally published in Quebec as Du bon usage des etoiles, Dominique Fortier's debut On the Proper Use of Stars is as fresh and imaginative as anything published in recent years. It weaves together the voices of Francis Crozier, Sir John Franklin's second in command, who turns a sceptical eye on the grandiose ambitions and hubris of his leader, and of Lady Jane Franklin and her niece Sophia, both driven to uncommon actions by love and by frustration as months then years pass with no word from the expedition. Fortier skilfully accents the main narratives with overheard conversations and snippets from letters and documents that bring two entirely different worlds — the frozen Arctic and busy Victorian London — alive.

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Review

"Captivating. . . . Fortier’s clever, confident prose and Fischman’s flawless translation [shift] effortlessly between the comedy of manners of London society and the Gothic romance of the Artic wilderness. . . . The novel pulses with adventure and originality, and brims with promise for this gifted new voice in fiction." 
 — National Post

"Immensely entertaining and well-researched. . . . Fortier injects warm human blood, romance and beauty into the frigid, stark and heartbreaking old story we all thought we knew." 
 — Gazette (Montreal)

"Debut novelist Dominique Fortier – beautifully translated by Sheila Fischman – takes a new approach [to the Franklin story]: She chooses elegance . . ." 
 — Toronto Star

"Rich [and] clever. . . . [The novel] is poetic and elegiac about the lost and those left behind." 
 — Winnipeg Free Press

"Told in utterly original fashion, a historical novel with wit and fascination. Fans of Arctic literature will not want to pass on this one." 
 — SunTimes (Owen Sound)

"[Fortier’s] first novel is a shimmering hall of mirrors in which the Northwest passage relects dreams of glory that will be fatally shattered." 
 — L'actualité

"With this uncommonly mature debut novel, Dominique Fortier strikes out for the furthest poles: for heroism, love, and plum pudding. Inspired by a story we thought we knew, she creates a unique and brilliant tale that navigates skilfully between dread and dream."
— Nicolas Dickner, author of Nikolski

"Wow! Double wow!" were my first words upon reading On the Proper Use of Stars. And what a great title! Especially when we understand its meaning, or rather when, all of a sudden, between two pages, it takes on its full significance and goes straight to the heart of those who allow themselves to be romantics. And to dream. Of love. Of adventure. A film is coming. Epic and Victorian! But first, to be read for the elegance of the style and the storytelling ability of this young writer, who made me want to sail away and explore . . . two worlds: one of ice, the other of lace; of tea, and salt water."
— Jean Marc-Vallée, director of The Young Victoria

"Enthralling. . . . The story leaves you both entertained and agonizingly aware of the tragedy that awaits."
— Chatelaine


About the Author

DOMINIQUE FORTIER was born in 1972. She holds a Ph.D. in literature from McGill University and is a respected editor and literary translator. On the Proper Use of Stars, her debut novel, was first published in Quebec in 2008 as Du bon usage des étoiles and was shortlisted for the French language Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Prix des libraires du Québec, the Grand Prix littéraire Archambault, and the Prix Senghor. It is being adapted for the screen by Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria). Dominique lives in Montreal.

SHEILA FISCHMAN is the award-winning translator of some 150 contemporary novels from Quebec. In 2008 she was awarded the Molson Prize in the Arts. She is a Member of the Order of Canada and a chevalier de l'Ordre national du Québec. She lives in Montreal.


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3.0 out of 5 stars Quite Original May 13 2014
By Toni Osborne TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
This novel is the fictional account of the disastrous attempt by Sir John Franklin and his crew to discover the mythic Northwest Passage. In 1845 they embarked on the Terror and the Erebus for a three year voyage only to be lost for ever in the unforgiving Tundra. What happened is the meat of this stunning story.

This story partly inspired by genuine events and based on real persons is an inventive and elegantly narrated weaving treads in a seamless tapestry of diary entries, scientific diagrams, letters, poems maps and musical sheet. This book reads beautifully as a series of superbly crafted vignettes.

Francis Crozier, Sir Franklin right hand man, provides the principal source for the Arctic narrative. Through his eyes he slowly dismantles Franklin image revealing him as he sees him and how he led his crew on a suicide mission. Through his diary, we see how the crew struggled in the savage wilderness till the very end.

In stark contrast, while Franklin’s crew are starving, Lady Jane Franklin and her niece Sophia both are feasting at elaborate tea parties and indulging in the refined world of balls. The author has a real eye for beauty and due to the richness and complexity of her language the Victorian drawing rooms and the high drama of the freezing Arctic come vividly alive. Throughout the novel continues contrasting the two separate worlds and reflecting life in both setting. This juxtaposition is well done although the setting that started beautifully soon lapsed into monotony.

Not everyone will like this style I for one had difficulty adjusting to the narrative and I prefer to see lots of action in historical fiction, this one is more dialogue driven than anything else. Although the story is familiar the spin given by Ms. Fortier is nonetheless quite original.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars oh no Nov. 11 2012
By HELEN
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A SUPRISE CHRISTMAS PRESENT FOR MY HUSBAND. AS WE HAVE THE SAME E-MAIL ADDRESS IT IS NO LONGER A SUPRISE . THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely meditation on the Franklin expedition Jan. 2 2014
By Cynthia Bazinet - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fortier has expertly managed to tweak the commonly accepted narrative around the Franklin expedition into a narrative that is, at times, both melancholy and humorous but always one that never loses site of the humanity, the suffering, and the exquisitely painful outcome of one of the worst debacles in the annals of polar exploration. By utilizing a shifting point of view and a variety of genres, Fortier offers us a perspective on each of the principle characters that challenges us to animate these individuals with an appreciation of their lost hopes and dreams. The deaths of the 126 members of the Franklin expedition is the stuff of legend, but Fortier's sensitive, even tender, treatment of the much-maligned Francis Crozier is one for the ages. If you're at all interested in this footnote in history, this is well worth your time. A perfect winter read.

P.S. And, in the context of the historical events, has there ever been a more lovely title for a novel?
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quite Original May 13 2014
By Toni Osborne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
This novel is the fictional account of the disastrous attempt by Sir John Franklin and his crew to discover the mythic Northwest Passage. In 1845 they embarked on the Terror and the Erebus for a three year voyage only to be lost for ever in the unforgiving Tundra. What happened is the meat of this stunning story.

This story partly inspired by genuine events and based on real persons is an inventive and elegantly narrated weaving treads in a seamless tapestry of diary entries, scientific diagrams, letters, poems maps and musical sheet. This book reads beautifully as a series of superbly crafted vignettes.

Francis Crozier, Sir Franklin right hand man, provides the principal source for the Arctic narrative. Through his eyes he slowly dismantles Franklin image revealing him as he sees him and how he led his crew on a suicide mission. Through his diary, we see how the crew struggled in the savage wilderness till the very end.

In stark contrast, while Franklin’s crew are starving, Lady Jane Franklin and her niece Sophia both are feasting at elaborate tea parties and indulging in the refined world of balls. The author has a real eye for beauty and due to the richness and complexity of her language the Victorian drawing rooms and the high drama of the freezing Arctic come vividly alive. Throughout the novel continues contrasting the two separate worlds and reflecting life in both setting. This juxtaposition is well done although the setting that started beautifully soon lapsed into monotony.

Not everyone will like this style I for one had difficulty adjusting to the narrative and I prefer to see lots of action in historical fiction, this one is more dialogue driven than anything else. Although the story is familiar the spin given by Ms. Fortier is nonetheless quite original.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Fools Errand Dec 27 2013
By jackdoc - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Well written and well translated. Interesting story even though the outcome is known in advance. A harsh appraisal of English manners by a French Canadian.
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