Thursday, July 21, 2011

5th Annual Canadian Book Challenge Review #2: Fugitives by Suzanne Jacob

If you don't know Suzanne Jacob, she's a Montreal writer who has won the Governor General's Award not once, but twice (although not for this novel). Furthermore, Sheila Fischmann, who translated this novel out of French, has done some fabulous translations before, most notably (in my view) for Roch Carrier. Those facts combined with my partiality for family sagas, and that's how I decided to give this novel a shot.

I am new to Suzanne Jacob, but I adore her writing style; to me, it bears strong resemblances to Virginia Woolf, gracefully moving in and out of the characters' thoughts. Both of these writers are also concerned about the events that define women's lives. In Fugitives, we meet four generations of women from the same family - from oldest to youngest, we have Blanche, Fabienne, Fabienne's daughters Émilie and Stéphanie, and finally the great-granddaughters, Alexa and Nathe. All of these women have been scarred by traumas that reveal frightening gender-linked inequalities, such as adultery, rape, and physical and sexual abuse, although because they are at different stages in life, their ability to understand these traumas varies widely. I'm quite used to reading about very serious subjects like this, although I definitely would not recommend it for people who aren't ready and willing to deal with them.

The only problem that I have with this book is that, at times, the novel seems to overdo the family's experiences in ways that aren't altogether realistic. I can't help but wonder how realistic it is to contain all of the above-mentioned tragedies, coupled with some other surprising discoveries, within this one family, but perhaps that's because, thankfully, my family isn't at all similar to the one in this novel. Nevertheless, there were a number of reasons why I kept reading this book. One, as I have said, is my love of Suzanne Jacob's writing style. Another is the fact that this novel is coming out of Québec, which likes to pride itself on gender equality, with its great child care services and high representation of women in government. However you or I feel about the plausibility of the "density" of events in this novel, the problems that the novel's female characters face are part of reality - even in the legally and socially liberal place in which we live.

Despite her heavy subject matter, I look forward to reading more work by Suzanne Jacob whenever I get the chance.

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