Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers
Author: Suzanne Desrochers
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 17th Century / Canada / Quebec / Paris / Orphanage / Native Americans-American Indians / Marriage)
Publisher/Publication Date: W. W. Norton & Company (8/5/2013)
Source: The publisher.
Rating: Okay to liked, maybe okay. I can't decide!
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: In 17th century France, a young woman is institutionalized for simply being poor, and after being trained in lace-making, is shipped to frontier Canada by order of the King to marry a settler.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, Immigrant Stories
Do I like the cover?: I love it -- it's moody and atmospheric, and fits the story (our heroine Laure always felt a bit obscured to me, honestly). I can't stop looking at it!
I'm reminded of...: Annabel Lyon
First line: The sound of hooves on stone reaches the family huddled in the rain.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like historical fiction written in a more 'modern' or unusual narrative style or stories with Parisian settings, pretty orphans, and transactional marriages.
Why did I get this book?: I've wanted to read it since it was first released last year.
Review: I am so conflicted about this book!
The setting (17th century Paris and 'New France'/Canada) and premise (government-made orphan shipped with dozens of other girls to frontier Canada for forced marriages to French settlers) are fascinating, but I just couldn't stand the novel's narrative style (third person, present tense).
Our heroine, Laure, comes from a poverty-stricken family, and in 17th century Paris, by the King's decree, the poor were not allowed to be seen on the streets. When her family is seen, Laure is seized and sent to the Salpêtrière, a compound of imprisoned prostitutes, orphans, and other undesirables, where she's trained in lace-making. Her aspiration is to become a celebrated Parisian seamstress, a vocation she thinks will allow her to meet, and marry, a Duke.
Instead, she becomes a fille du roi, part of a convey of unwanted women -- some sick, some mad, some simply too poor to protest -- shipped to the French colony in the 'New World' in order to marry the wild single men there. Unsurprisingly, Laure's life is predictably grim and horrifying.
I'll admit to being shocked at how long it took Laure to get to Canada; from the jacket copy, I presumed it would be immediately, but it wasn't until about page 95 (of a 288 page novel) that Laure departs France. The story leading up to it didn't feel particularly necessary: as I noted on GoodReads, I wasn't 'close' to Laure, despite the immediacy of the present tense narrative. She always felt a bit standoffish and odd. I'd rather the story lingered more with Laure in Canada as I found some of her decisions and the events that happened between her and an Iroquois man to be baffling and confusing.
In her Historical Notes, Desrochers indicated the inspiration for this novel came out her thesis on the women who emigrated to the Americas as well as her desire was to show the realities of the women who colonized Canada -- to counter the mythic, patriotic, and admiring stories she'd been told as a child. She's successful in that: with each step in Laure's journey, my heart sank further and further.
Ultimately, despite my frustration with the style of the story, I was unable to put it down. Those curious can check out the novel's opening at the US publisher's website (although I should note it is missing the novel's prologue, weirdly enough. But you'll get a sense of Desrochers' writing style.) A great historical novel for those who like their historicals to articulate the grim reality women faced in the past or Francophiles who want to read about a less novelized era of French history.
*** *** ***
I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Bride of New France to one lucky reader. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 8/30.