Taken from her parents as a child, Laure was sent to Paris’ Salpêtrière, where women deemed unfit for society were placed. Laure got a brief glimpse of wealth and family while working as a servant, but when her madame passes, she must go back to the wretched conditions at the hospital. In addition the the plight of rats, the people there are severely underfed. Infants are fed a watery milk concoction and most don’t survive. One young woman, whom Laure initially despised, passes away from scurvy. Laure attempts to get a letter to the king asking for improved conditions, but the hospital’s Superior finds out. A spiteful woman, she sends Laure to Canada, still a wild country, as punishment. Once there, Laure must struggle through loss, marriage, and surviving in this new land.
Laure is neither very likeable nor relatable. She initially seems bitter and jealous. Mireille, another girl at the Salpêtrière, evokes her envy. When Mireille dies, she seems to change a bit, but is still very selfish. She encourages her best friend, Madeline, to accompany her to the new world knowing fully well how dangerous this might be. Once in Canada, she endangers Madeline once more, all so she won't have to be alone. To her credit, Laure seems a bit more headstrong than other women sent to Canada. Perhaps she has even grown by the end of the book.
This novel is written in the third-person–present-tense, and I don’t think it really works. It felt a bit impersonal and alienating. At times, it seemed more like a clinical look than an intimate portrait. This story relies so much on a central character that this non-connection leaves the novel feeling flat and lacking in emotion.
Still, this was certainly an interesting look at how the poor of Old France were treated. How the women exiled to the New France had to make do with what they had and simply try to survive. Those interested in this time in history, as well as women's struggles, may find this book enjoyable. It is certainly very illuminating, I just wish it felt more personal.Goodreads | Librarything | Shelfari