Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Like many readers I'm sure, I find books about people travelling long distances interesting, especially when they are set in a time period hundreds of years ago, where means of travel and living were so completely different from today. In order to cross the ocean now, we simply hop on a plane, turning what was an eight week trip into an eight hour one; it is also certainly much safer than the dangers of guiding a wooden ship across the vast Atlantic Ocean.
So I picked up Bride Of New France with great expectations and they were mostly met until the last part of the novel.
The story begins with a young girl being torn from parents arms and taken to a convent where the sisters teach the young women the art of sewing, tatting lace, praying and reciting Latin phrases to Virgin Mary. All Laure has left of her parents is a memory of her father's voice, singing songs to her that are so unlike the songs they drone during mass.
After a few missteps on her part, intentions to do good causing more harm than actual help, Laure is sentenced to travel to New France (also known as Canada) with her close friend and other unfortunate souls from the surrounding area. The only knowledge they have of Canada is of the Savages and cold; some say it is better to starve to death in a dungeon than be sent to New France.
As the novel continues, it describes the journey across the Atlantic. (At this point, I am strongly reminded of Someone Knows My Name) The author has clearly done extensive amount of research to capture what New France had been like, the relations between the "Savages" (Iroquois, Algonquin) and the Jesuits, the nuns, the traders/trappers, the settlers of New France. One almost winces while reading about the conversion efforts of the devout Jesuits and there is a small mention of the massacre of some priests.
Altogether this sounds like an enthralling story, right? We see Laure suffer through many trials, her best friend shuffling her mortal coil (as to be somewhat expect by someone in such a delicate state throughout the entire novel) and in a way, the reader almost roots for the protagonist. It is easy to empathize with her pain, being taken so far away from everything she knows and being thrust into an entirely foreign existence.
What was intriguing to me was the juxtaposition of Laure being so overwhelmed with the changes around her, forced to survive and eke out a living, while the Savages were basically placed in the same scenario as they were as well forced to accept different beliefs and cultures instead of being allowed to maintain their individuality. Fortunately, the novel did not dwell too much on these issues and become sentimental or preachy. It moved right along a clipping speed...until the end of it.
To avoid spoiling any potential readers (because I would recommend this book), I will simply say that to my thinking, the end just doesn't tie up everything neatly. We don't see life becoming any better for Laure, even though we have been hoping that it will and at least some of her dreams will be fulfilled. All that we are left with is her accepting her fate and succumbing to the fact that she has no true control of her own destiny or life.
In that way, I was disappointed and it is why I chose three stars instead of four. Perhaps if I felt that Laure had learned an important lesson and moved on to greater things, I would have been more generous with my rating. Instead, I was left with a sense of emptiness and wondering, 'What was the point of this book?' In a way, it seemed as though the novel didn't truly have a point, but carried itself as more of a historical essay steeped in research than a message to the readers. The author, who has been working on a thesis comparing the lives of immigrated French women to English women, seems caught up in the details of the culture and history and neglects the emotional tale of the characters. Hopefully her next novel will have more closure than this one did. In the meantime, I will have imagine what end Laure would have come to on my own.
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