Douglas Glover usually writes short stories. And received a lot of prizes for them. Also for this novel. Before we read it in the book club, one of our members gave it to me because she wanted to hear my thoughts about it. The author had just received the very prodigious Canadian Governor General's Award for Fiction for this book.
Both of us couldn't really identify with the novel but someone suggested it for the book club and it was chosen, not despite but probably because our warnings, people became interested.
Apparently, the novel is based on a true story or legend. Well, "according to the legend, in 1542 the Sieur de Roberval exiled his niece Marguerite de la Roche for her lusty behaviour on board his ship, along with her nurse and her lover. The trio found themselves on what was then called the Ile des Demons, on the Labrador coast. Amazingly, she survived three summers and two winters, and the deaths of her nurse, her lover and her baby, before she was rescued and returned to France to tell her story."
So far the introduction. Granted, there are some interesting parts in the novel, the description of the island, for instance, but the rest was more a very complicated weird vision, partly like a fairy tale or fantasy, not very real at all. Apparently he tried to "mangle and distort the facts as best as he could". Mission accomplished, Mr. Glover. The critics praise his “wild imagination”. Yes, indeed.
Our readers were not very impressed either. One of them said she thinks the author is a sexual pervert, another one, a little more modest, "'Elle' was not my favourite." Neither was it mine.
We discussed this in our book club in March 2005.
From the back cover: "Imagine a 16th-century society belle turned Robinson Crusoe, a female Don Quixote with an Inuit Sancho Panza, and you'll have an inkling of what's in store in Douglas Glover's outrageously Rabelaisian new novel -- his first in ten years. Elle is a lusty, subversive riff on the discovery of the New World, the moment of first contact. Based on a true story, Elle chronicles the ordeals and adventures of a young French woman marooned on the desolate Isle of Demons during Jacques Cartier's ill-fated third and last attempt to colonize Canada. Of course, the plot is only the beginning. The bare outline is a true story: the Sieur de Roberval did abandon his unruly young niece, her lover, and her nurse on the Isle of Demons; her companions and her newborn baby did die; and she was indeed rescued and taken home to France. Beyond that, Glover's Rabelaisian imagination takes over. What with real bears, spirit bears, and perhaps hallucinated bears, with mystified and mystifying Natives, with the residue of a somewhat lurid religious faith, and with a world of self-preserving belligerence, the voluble heroine of Elle does more than survive. Elle brilliantly reinvents the beginnings of this country's history: what Canada meant to the early European adventurers, what these Europeans meant to Canada's original inhabitants, and the terrible failure of the two worlds to recognize each other as human. In a carnal whirlwind of myth and story, of death, lust and love, of beauty and hilarity, Glover brings the past violently and unexpectedly into the present. In Elle, Glover's well-known scatological realism, exuberant violence, and dark, unsettling humour give history a thoroughly modern chill."