9780887846533 / 088784653X



Publisher:House of Anansi Press



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About the book:

Anne Hébert's finest novel, Kamouraska, is a sophisticated blend of historical romance and psychological exploration. Most of the action is filtered through the imagination of Madame Elisabeth Rolland, the eminently respectable wife of a mortally ill Quebec City lawyer. Exhausted from caring for (and duelling emotionally with) her dying husband, Elisabeth half-deliriously remembers her harrowing past and her prior marriage to the epically debauched Squire of Kamouraska, whom she had persuaded her American lover, Doctor Nelson, to murder. Nelson himself escaped to the United States, but Elisabeth was briefly incarcerated for the crime before being rehabilitated through her staid bourgeois remarriage. Elisabeth's turbulent and feverish reminiscences at times push the boundaries of reason, and her psychology is the strongest element of Kamouraska--its historical background fades behind the force of Elisabeth's mind.

Kamouraska is unfortunately somewhat crippled in translation. This is not the translator's fault; English syntax does not lend itself to the rapid, romantic quality of Hébert's French. As a result, some of the most intense passages in the novel feel needlessly choppy:

Too late! It's too late. The past, remembered, cuts open its veins. My mad youth wraps itself over my bones. I step in its tracks. The way you fit your feet in your very own footprints, walking along the wet sandy shore. Again, crossing through murder and death. Touching the bottom, the depths of despair.
The English Kamouraska may lack much of the intensity of the original, but the intellectual breadth and psychological depth of the novel do translate, leaving a book that is fascinating but, sadly, not consistently engaging. Anyone who has more than a passing interest in Québécois literature needs to read Kamouraska, in English or in French, but it may disappoint casually curious English readers. --Jack Illingworth

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