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Kamouraska by Anne Hébert
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Jun 20, 2009

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This cryptic novel written in 1970 by Anne Hebert, a French-Canadian writer who eventually moved to France and died there in 2000, is considered by a must-read in the world of Quebecois literature. Hebert's story takes place in the town of the novel's title, a small community in Quebec. The time is the mid-19th century, decades after France's Canandian territories were taken away by England. Nevertheless, the Quebec motto "Je me souviens" ("I remember . . . my language, my culture, my religion") is evident everywhere in this story among the characters who are vividly of French ethnicity. At the center of the story is Elisabeth d'Aulineres, an unhappy wife of a brutal husband, who has an adulterous affair and bears her lover's child. So desperate is she to be with her lover, that she attempts to poison her husband. He survives, but is later shot dead by her lover, who then turns chicken and abandons Elizabeth by fleeing over the border to Vermont. Elizabeth serves time in jail, then is released, and later remarries, and has more children, though her second husband never really trusts her. Much of the book involves Elizabeth's shifting back and forth from consciousness to unconsciousness as she sleeps and unwillingly dreams of the dreadful turning point in her life. At times, she flashes back to her paranoia about being caught by the police for her crime. Generally, the narrative pattern is third person when Elisabeth is awake and tending to her her second husband or her children, and first person when she drifts into dreams, although Elisabeth's fearful, first-person thoughts may slip in pell-mell at any point. Hebert is able to fit Elizabeth into the role of victim rather than criminal by suggesting that her first husband was such a scoundrel that her and her lover's crime were justified. The psychological quagmire into which she is thrust, though, is a piteous one, and Hebert makes a strong statement about the plight of married women in general during this time period.
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