Sunday, November 15, 2015

Kamouraska by Anne Hebert

In 1840’s Quebec, Madame Elisabeth remembers her husband and her lover

Elisabeth, devout Catholic mother of eight, attends the bedside of her dying husband. Her second husband, that is. But, rather than the imminent death, her thoughts turn towards the past, the time when she and her young maid were imprisoned for the murder of her first husband, Antoine. Raised by maiden aunts, in an extremely devout household, Elisabeth revels in her youth and beauty and soon captures the heart of rich dashing Antoine. Unfortunately, Antoine turns out to be a licentious wife-beating brute and at their remote manor in snowy Kamouraska, Elisabeth's affection is stolen by handsome young American doctor, George Nelson. The pair, along with bad girl ladies maid Aurelie, plot to kill the dissolute Antoine.

I was immediately sucked into the fresh energetic voice. It's sort of like a Quebecois Alias Grace.  The impressionistic imagery is memorable -- like a Bergman film with acres of snow and gushing blood and women moaning.  Like a premenstrual scream.  The three old aunts clutching their rosaries, the overturned sleigh and the kiss in the snow.  Heightened emotions, heightened passions. But then the story gets repetitive, the narrative drenched in estrogen.  I got it - society wants to constrain Elisabeth, to make her take her place as a docile possession.  Eventually, the attempts of this trio to knock off Antoine start to take on a Three Stooges quality. And it’s not quite clear how Elisabeth ended up being so respectable.

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