Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers. Publisher: W.W. Norton (2013). Historical Fiction. Paperback. 294 pages. ISBN: 9780143173380.
I’m pretty sure the gorgeous cover drew me to this novel. That and the Paris/ “New France” connection of the 17th century, something I’ve read little about. This title doesn’t suit it at all. The main character, a young strong-willed woman name Laure, doesn’t become a bride in Canada well until the final third of the novel. It’s hardly about that at all. I found the subject matter fascinating but the writing difficult perhaps too academic. Author Suzanne Desrochers says she based the novel on a thesis idea. She’s a PhD student. At times the novel dragged along. Clearly the author found her subject matter completely enthralling and couldn’t decide what to include and what to withhold in this fictional account of an 18-year-old orphan’s journey from Paris to the uncharted wilds north of Quebec.
At the time, the King of France wanted to keep men in Canada so shipped women over there and would reward those who bore children. Many men endured the three years required service in the harsh Canadian wilderness and jumped onto a boat back to France, others stayed when given their own land knowing they had nothing better to return to in their homeland. For the women they had no idea what to expect as the men were living on their own for such a long time. They’d become used to that lifestyle as well as seeking companionship with the local native American women, known as “savage women,” who unlike the French women would put up with almost anything from the Canadian men.
“Because most of the men only stay a short while in the colony before returning to France, there seems to be less concern for respecting superiors. There also seems to be little protection for women from foul-mouthed men like this fur trader. “
When Desrochers kept calling the Iroquois Indian (he’d been kidnapped by an Algonquin tribe as a child) who Laure ends up having an affair with ugly without providing a physical description of him it truly bothered me. She only said that he was uglier than Laure’s husband. Most of her descriptions were pretty decent up to that point so I was quite disappointed and almost stopped reading but I wanted to see how it ended. Laure found herself pregnant with the Indian’s daughter and forced to give her up to be raised by the Indian tribe. Lucky for her, the husband, who himself had been sleeping with Indian women all along, died en route home to see the birth of what he thought was his child.
Laure showed resilience throughout her tribulations though proved to be a mostly quiet, reflective character. The details about the orphaned women in Paris homes run by religious orders, comprising the novel’s first third, could be its own novel. The journey to Quebec, the second third, a harrowing trip at that time and finally dropping these women off in parts unknown and wedding them off to men they’d never met. What a nightmare! This isn’t the best historical fiction for its characters but for introducing readers to rare subject matter and the author deserves some credit for her efforts.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from W.W. Norton.