Bride of New France
by Suzanne Desrochers
Release Date: January 18, 2011
2011 Penguin Canada
Softcover Edition; 294 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
4 / 5 Stars
Bride of New France was an interesting and fascinating tale of life in both France and in New France by debut author Suzanne Desrochers.
Bride of New France tells the story of Laure Beausejour, who at seven-years-old, was taken away from her parents and sent to live in Salpetriere, a dormitory in Paris surrounded by prostitutes, the insane, and other forgotten women. With her closest friend Madeleine, she learns needlework skills and dreams of one day opening her own shop and marrying well. But in 1669, due to circumstances beyond her control, Madeleine and Laure are sent to New France as filles du roi, part of the king's mandate to clean the streets of the destitute, but also to populate his new colony in the new world by sending women to marry the men and bear children. Laure and Madeleine now have to face a terrible journey across the Atlantic into an unknown destination where all they've heard about is the ferocious winters and men who eat the heart of French priests. To be banished to Canada is a terrible fate and Laure wonders what she has done to deserve this fate.
As a Canadian with roots in French Canada, I was excited to be able to read this novel. Ms. Desrochers has a way of bringing history to life and I could picture the way everything looked, felt, and smelt. The early lives of these settlers were pretty brutal and many people died or couldn't handle it and returned to France. Because the story revolved around Laure, many of the details of the settlement did fade into the background which disappointed me as I wanted to learn more, but it is a fiction novel and not a non-fiction tale.
Laure's character was an interesting persona. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I liked her or not as she had this coldness about her that I couldn't understand a lot of the time. She wrapped herself in a kind of aloofness that kept her from associating with other girls, whether in Salpetriere or on the ship or in the settlement in New France. I understood that this aloofness was her way of fighting for whatever little bit she could get in an environment that was unforgiving and ruthless, but there were times when I wish she showed a little more compassion for others. Knowing the challenges that she would have faced coming from France and trying to eke out a living in New France on her own, little expecting the brutality of a Canadian winter, I can understand her temerity to want to try to survive on her own, but there were times when I could have shaken her and told her it's not a sign of weakness to ask for help once in a while. I also found her feelings of superiority to the other filles du roi somewhat snobby. Again, I understand it's self-protection in a very difficult world, but I often wondered if she would have fared better if she trusted a little more. Yet, despite all this, I rooted for her all of the time. I wanted her to succeed, to be happy, and to get that little bit that should be hers.
The first part of the novel takes place in France, and you get a vivid description of Laure's life during this time. She suffers through many trials, always hungry, cold, and facing a life of dreadful poverty, and the descriptions of Paris are pretty amazing. I felt like I was right there, feeling Laure's hunger and her desperation. The rest of the novel deals with the voyage across the ocean and Laure's life in New France. Again, the descriptions are vivid, with great descriptions of life and secondary characters in New France. I especially enjoyed reading about Madame Rouillard and would have liked to have learned more about her. The plot was interesting and in many parts, unexpected. I certainly didn't expect Laure's life to go the way it did. I am left wondering what happened to Laure and Madame Rouillard after the novel ended.
Bride of New France was a fascinating read about the early settlement in New France. I am definitely looking forward to many more novels from Suzanne Desrochers.