Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review: Bride of New France

In 1669, New France referred to a part of Canada now known as Quebec. This densely forested land was cruel to its first inhabitants, who faced starvation, bitter cold and hostile natives, and being banished to New France was considered a fate worse than death. Nevertheless, there was a program to populate this new country by sending young women to New France as marriage partners for the men and soldiers already in the land.  This is the premise of the book Bride of New France, which is the story of one such young girl by the name of Laure Beausejour. The story begins in France where she is a Bijoux (an apprentice laceworker) living in the dormitory at Salpetriere Hospital, moves across the stormy Atlantic Ocean in a perilous journey and ends in the wild territory of New France.

This novel is the debut work of Suzanne Desrochers who is completing her Ph.D thesis in England on the migration of women to colonial North America from Paris and London. Clearly she is well versed in history and much of the story rings true. But like many first time authors, the book is somewhat inconsistent in flow with some parts of the story that lag and other plot points that seem over the top and unnecessary to the story. I liked the book enough to read it anyway as it paints a vivid picture of the harsh reality of this inhospitable land, but I never was really able to identify or even like the main character. Laure seems unreachable and unknowable, even though the story is about her. But no matter, the book is worth reading anyway.

One aspect of the book that I particularly enjoyed was the fact that Laure was a gifted needleworker and seamstress. She makes her own clothes and the image of her lovely dresses, totally inappropriate to the harsh wilds, hanging from the rafters of her home, is one that has stayed with me.

It's been a while since I read the non-fiction accounts of Susanna Moodie's Roughing it in the Bush and  Catharine Parr Traill's The Backwoods of Canada, Letters from the Life of an Emigrant Officer but The Bride of New France has reawakened my curiosity about the role of women in settlement of Canada. There are so many books, so little time....

Title: Bride of New France
Author: Suzanne Desrochers
Category: Historical fiction
Publisher: Penguin Canada
Number of Pages: 292 (Paperback edition)

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