ELLE by Douglas Glover (Goose Lane), 205 pages, $21.95 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Except that it's not written by Margaret Atwood, Douglas Glover's Elle has everything you'd expect from a novel shortlisted for the Governor General's Award. It comes from a small press - and out of New Brunswick, just to satisfy the regional interests - and it's based on Canadian historical fact. But don't hold that against it. Elle is a riot of a riff on that moment in Canada's past when cultures collided in the New World.
The narrative is based on what is supposed to be the true story of a young Frenchwoman and her nurse who were marooned on an island in the St. Lawrence during the period when Jacques Cartier was attempting for the third time to settle the new colony.
Told from her perspective - she's never named, hence the title - in hallucinatory prose, the story begins with the girl having hot sex on board her uncle's ship, which leads to her being put ashore for her bad-girl behaviour along with her nurse and lover, a tennis player, of all things. Or maybe he isn't. Is this just one of Glover's tricks to get us to appreciate Elle's first encounter with snowshoes?
The thing is, you just don't know. The story may be just a bit of mythic folklore, or it may be true - Glover's done a ton of work to get the historical detail right - but either way, he tells it from the point of view of someone in a state just this side of total delirium. She's cold, hungry, pregnant and sick. She drifts from dream to reality, shape-shifting from human to bear and back again (maybe), and meeting fascinating characters who help her survive.
If only history were taught with books like these.
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