- Paperback: 312 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Canada; 1st Edition edition (Jan. 18 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143173383
- ISBN-13: 978-0143173380
- Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 2.2 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 476 g
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #363,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Bride of New France Paperback – Jan 18 2011
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"a wholly original example of social history at its best" - John Barber, The Globe and Mail
“a fully imagined but deeply grounded novel” - John Barber, The Globe and Mail
“Bride of New France will not silence critics of the new social history, nor is it meant to. But if they do want to bring the past alive for a new generation, as they typically claim, they could never find a text more likely to engage the minds and imaginations of young people, especially girls, who have grown immune to the conventional narratives.” - John Barber, The Globe and Mail
“A moody, beautiful piece of historical fiction.” - Dana Medoro, Winnipeg Free Press
"A haunting story of a courageous young woman." - Kathleen Grissom, author of the bestselling The Kitchen House
About the Author
Suzanne Desrochers grew up in the French-Canadian village of Lafontaine on the shores of Georgian Bay in Ontario. She currently lives in London, UK, with her husband and son. She is completing a PhD thesis at King’s College comparing the migration of women from Paris and London to colonial North America. She also wrote her MA thesis on the Filles du roi, combining Creative Writing and History, at York University in Toronto. Bride of New France is her first novel.
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Bride of New France tells the story of the filles du roi - the King's Daughters. In 1659 France is acting on the King's decree to "clean the streets". Clean the streets of the poor, the destitute, the beggars - "...troublesome sights for the young King and his regents". Seven year old Laure Beausejour is taken from her family and placed in the Salpêtriére Hospital - a building that housed prostitutes, criminals, the insane and the poor. It is here that Laure works in a dimly lit sewing room producing lace. She dreams of one day leaving, opening her own business and getting married.
She does get to leave, but not in the manner she had planned. The King is eager to populate New France - the French colony in Canada. In 1669 Laure and her friend Madeleine are chosen to be sent to Canada as brides for the male colonists and to produce children. Rumours of life in New France tell of a terrible climate and danger from all sides. They turn out to not be rumours.
I enjoy reading historical fiction, but this was even more of a treat as it was Canadian. Names and events brought to mind history lessons learned long ago. But Desrochers does more than bring it to mind - she brings it to life. The settings are full of fact based details that paint a vivid picture of both France and Canada. Desrochers' academic background in history serves her well. But it is the character of Laure I became so engrossed in. Her life in Salpêtriére is harsh, yet she dreams of something better and a future. When confronted with the brutal life that is New France, she still does not give in, despite being driven to the edge.
The first half of the book, in France, involves more detail and serves almost as set up for the Canadian part of the novel. Desrochers surprised me here - Laure's character does not follow the path I expected. Her choices lead to some interesting plot lines and an ending I didn't expect. My only criticism - I wanted more of the Canadian life. The focus is on Laure, but I was interested in some of the secondary characters as well. Madame Rouillard, the bar owner/midwife has stories of her own to tell. And I'm curious as to what was in store for Laure after the book ended.
A fascinating historical read about a period and place not as well documented as the English settlements. I look forward to more fiction from Suzanne Desrochers.
Suzanne has somehow touched us in much the same way from a period that preceded Susanna's times in Ontario. I could not put this book aside until the story revealed itself fully. The research component is highly accurate. As Canadian women we should all understand the origins of those before us and the sacrifices they made at a time when women were not valued equally. I am grateful to this author for the eloquent writing in this fabulous novel.
Transforming dry facts into a fictional story; creating characters that walk off the page from numbers and records is the aspect of the novel that intrigues me most about the form. And I suggest Desrochers does a fine job of creating an imaginary world and setting her characters in it. Furthermore, her writing is solid. She spins a good yarn; her use of language is fresh and beautiful without being overdone. To the author's credit, the novel reads easily without succumbing to the category of an easy read.
A brief but dramatic prologue introduces our protagonist, Laure Beauséjour, in crisis, and succinctly sets the social landscape of seventeenth-century Paris. The story then picks up a few years later. Laure is now at the Salpêtrière, a pivotal institution in the mass incarceration of the poor of Paris. Here we see Laure interact with peers and witness her reaction to the consequences of their dire circumstances.
There's a magical moment during the reading of a book when you bond with the protagonist. In Laure's case, I confess I struggled. We needn't, however, like a character for the writing to work. Desrochers seems to be aware of this when she comments in her historical notes, 'On some levels she is a selfish character, but how else in such circumstances, if not through wit and strength and even malice, could these women have survived and given birth to French North America?'
If Laure, due to her challenging situation responds in a cold or calculated manner, I suggest this is exacerbated by Desrochers use of the third person, present tense point-of-view. There is a trend in literary fiction to use this POV. It can be a refreshing change and I enjoy books written from this perspective. However, it can create disconnect; we're asked to believe that the story is happening in real-time when clearly it is not. Consequently, I feel this choice of POV contributed to my lack of empathy for the challenging character of Laure.
After the trials of an ocean crossing, Laure has little choice but to marry pink-faced Mathurin, whose teeth are as rotten as his words. And the small settlement he takes her to offers little comfort. The only solace she finds is through her forbidden friendship with the Savage, Deskaheh.
Desrochers presentation of the relationship between Laure and Deskaheh, although passionate, remains realistic. And this, I suggest, is the book's great strength: it doesn't succumb to cliché colonial pairings, nor is it predictable it in its outcome or conclusion. Furthermore, I feel Desroschers offers a respectful representation of the indigenous cultures that Laure encounters. Joseph Boyden, author of Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce, agrees, calling Bride of New France 'A gorgeous historical debut.' Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning Boyden is of Scottish, Irish and Métis descent and his novels offer an illuminating view of First Nations heritage and culture.
Finally, I wonder if Suzanne Desrochers plans a sequel to Bride of New France. There certainly appears to be opportunity. And she must have done something right, for I find myself thinking of these characters and speculating about what happens in the future; how their lives, and those of their descendents, unfold. I hope Ms Desrochers is mulling this over as well.
My final word: If you're looking for a thoughtful read; one that opens a window into a world we know little of'the founding mothers of New France and to some extent, their relationship with the First Nations people they encountered'you'll enjoy this novel. Although the writing cannot be faulted, it does keep you at arms' length. Bride of New France is not a 'feel good, I need to escape and be this character' kinda read. With that said, save it for when you feel like settling down with a book that puts flesh on the dry bones of history. In which case, you won't be disappointed.
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