"Mourning, like everything else, was best done in silence."Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers tells the story of Laure Beausejour, a young girl growing up in a Paris dormitory after having been taken from her impoverished parents. Laure has spent a few years working as a servant in a rich woman's house, but after the woman died Laure moved into the dormitory where she and the other women there do embroidery. Laure dreams of one day becoming a famous seamstress, but her outspoken nature puts her at odds with the nuns who run the institution and she is selected to be sent across the Atlantic to New France. The year is 1669, and all Laure has heard of Canada is that to be sent there is a punishment worse than death. Despite this, she gets her best friend, the pious Madeleline, to come with her and together they set off for Ville-Marie (Montreal). Once there, the girls are expected to marry and bare many children with French soldiers. Laure, however, finds herself drawn to Deskaheh, an Iroquois who she begins a secret relationship with as she learns that New France offers possibilities she never expected.
The historical details of Bride of New France is what distinguishes it, as Desrochers has clearly done her research and offers a unique and realistic perspective of what it was like the "filles du roi" sent across to be wives to strangers. She also clarifies the myth that these women were all country girls, as Laure herself is completely unprepared for her first Canadian winter having spent her entire life in Paris, not even cooking for herself. The description of the journey across the ocean was particularly interesting, as the girls had no idea how long it would take, if they would survive, and most importantly, what they would find on the other side of the ocean if they did make it there safely. Although I appreciated the portion of the novel set in France for its ability to set up what Laure's life was like prior to her journey to New France, I wish there had been more time spent in New France, as that was the part of the book I found most interesting. As a native Montrealer, I found myself drawn to Bride of New France because of the insight it offered on a historical period that I have always found extremely interesting.
Although I loved Bride of New France from a historical perspective, I felt that it lacked the same strength when it came to the characters themselves. I appreciated that Desrochers tried to tell the story through the eyes of a woman who is quite independent for the time, but Laure was often so incredibly selfish that I had a difficult time relating to her. Despite knowing that her friend Madeleline wants nothing more than to become a nun, she guilts her into volunteering for what she knows will be a dangerous journey. Madeleline only ever treats Laure with love and respect, and in response Laure is more concerned about having a friend on the journey than the fact that Madeleline will be giving up her dreams and forced to marry, something she never wanted to do. Madeleline herself initially comes across as slightly one-dimensional, blandly good and pious, but she ultimately shares a secret with Laure which made her character far richer and more interesting, and it was an aspect I wish had the opportunity to be developed further.
Laure was never a character I could personally connect with, and I often found many things she did, especially convincing Madeleine to come with her, but also her relationship with Deskaheh, to be unsympathetic. I kept waiting for Laure to redeem herself in my eyes but unfortunately that never happened and made it difficult for me to connect with the novel emotionally. Ultimately, I found it very refreshing to read a novel based in Canadian history and I think Desrochers did an incredible job of introducing the reader to the time period and although I didn't care for the main character, Laure, I appreciated the unique perspective and insight into what it was like for new settlers that Bride of New France offers.
Release Date: January 18th, 2011