Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Review: Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers

Laure Beausejour has grown up in a dormitory in Paris surrounded by prostitutes, the insane, and other forgotten women. She dreams with her best friend, Madeleine, of using her needlework skills to become a seamstress and one day marry a nobleman. But in 1669, Laure is sent across the Atlantic to New France with Madeleine as filles du roi. The girls know little of the place they are being sent to, except for stories of ferocious winters and Indians who eat the hearts of French priests. To be banished to Canada is a punishment worse than death.

Bride of New France explores the challenges Laure faces coming into womanhood in a brutal time and place. From the moment she arrives in Ville-Marie (Montreal) she is expected to marry and produce children with a brutish French soldier who himself can barely survive the harsh conditions of his forest cabin. But through her clandestine relationship with Deskaheh, an allied Iroquois, Laure finds a sense of the possibilities in this New World.

What happens to a woman who attempts to make her own life choices in such authoritative times?

Synopsis courtesy of Chapters.indigo.ca

My Review

4 Stars

Bride of New France, the debut novel from Canadian author Suzanne Desrochers, is set in Paris and  New France in the latter part of the 17th century.   As the novel opens the reader is introduced to Laure Beausejour, a young woman living at Paris' notorious Hospice de la Saltpetriere.  Skilled at embroidery, Laure dreams of becoming a renowned seamstress and marrying well.   This dream, however, is shattered when Laure is sent to New France as one of King Louis XIV's filles du roi (King's girl), a group of young women sent to the French colony to marry and raise a family. 

The greatest strength of this novel lies with Desrochers' rich imagery, which leaves the reader with an astounding sense of time and place.   These vivid descriptions are especially pronounced when the setting of the novel shifts to New France.   Indeed, the reader can almost feel the cold air and hear the wind whistling through Laure's cabin during her first winter in the colony.   In her new surroundings, her sense her isolation and loneliness is palpable.  Through Laure, the reader gets to experience the hardships faced by the filles du roi and the colonist in general as they tried to tame the harsh and unforgiving environment in which they settled.   

Although fluidly written, the manner in which this story is told makes it difficult to connect with Laure.   A connection with the protagonist is also made difficult due to her lack of charisma.   I was interested in Laure's struggles, but indifferent to the outcomes.   Nevertheless, these facts did not impact in any overly negative way on my enjoyment of the novel.    

Bride of New France is a worthwhile read for any fan of historical fiction, especially those interested in novels told from the perspective of ordinary individuals rather than famous historical figures.   Suzanne Desrochers is a writer to watch and I look forward to hearing more from her.