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A disappointing and misleading read
on March 27, 2011
This book has been widely publicised as a historical novel shining a new light on the life of the Filles du Roy in New France. The marketing pitch made much of Desrochers's academic credentials. This author does hold, after all, a Master's degree from a reputable university where she has defended a thesis relating to the Filles du Roy. She ought to know a thing or two about them. And so I was truly looking forward to what I fully expected would be an informative read.
How very disappointing, then, to find the research lacking in every basic respect.
Page after page, anachronisms abound, outright factual mistakes crop up, descriptions fail to match the geography or are taken out of their historical context. All of this does much to snuff any enjoyment an informed reader might otherwise derive from the narrative. The author seems to have built her improbable plot by relying on a random sampling of historical anecdotes and clichés which lend the work an odd cut and paste, stop and go, texture.
None of this would matter so much - it is after all a work of fiction - had the academic credentials of the authors not been used to bolster sales.
But they were. And so, one can't help but wonder why such gross factual errors were allowed to remain in the final draft.
Here are some examples:
- when Laure is being paddled up river from Trois-Rivières to Montreal in a canoe, the author insists on hauling those canoes up on shore several times to portage over rapids. There are simply no rapids in the Saint-Lawrence river between Trois-Rivières and Montreal. None that would require a portage. As for her shoddy description of Trois-Rivières, it is inexcusable;
- when the character Laure (an improbable name to begin with) arrives in Montreal, the author, in an awkward description, has her climb a hill to the top where a cross has been placed. Presumably, she is referring to the top of the Mount Royal where Cartier planted a cross in 1634. Had she bothered to check her facts, she might have found it improbable that Laura and the entire welcoming party would walk through 5 kilometres of bush to climb atop of a mountain just to say welcome to Montreal. And do so in less than one hour;
- later, the author shows this same Laure tending a vegetable garden and picking... tomatoes. In 1669, not only would Laure not have known what tomatoes were, she certainly would not have considered them fit to eat;
- after having Laure board the Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Havre-de-Grace, the author has the ship stop to pick up some faux-sauniers jailed on Ile-de-Ré. Not only is the Ile de Ré completely out of the way (closer to La Rochelle), but the deportation of faux-sauniers to Canada only began in the next century. Again, it is surprising that Desrochers would not have known this. Her insistence to depict these men as vermin ridden is also puzzling and unsupported by the available documentary evidence.
And the list goes on...
Some readers will no doubt be mislead by much of what this novel depicts as historical and factual. This book does not deliver the promised fresh new look at the live of the Filles du Roi in New France, nor to it meet the standards one would expect from an academic writer who specialises in the field. Instead, it feeds on the myths and misconceptions which have plagued Canadian history for so long. In the end, it is purely a work of fantasy with no historical relevance.
For these reasons this book, sadly, gets two thumbs down from this reader.