Maiden From the Sea by Nellie P. Strowbridge
|March 26, 2013||Posted by Alison Jenkins under Adventure, Canadian, Historical Fiction|
Published by Flanker Press
Reviewed by Alison Jenkins
A lyrical tale of a young French servant girl’s journey into womanhood on the harsh shoreline of 17th century Newfoundland – a shore inhabited by Beothuk natives, frequented by Irish fishermen and plundered by pirates.
Genevieve falls from the deck of a ship carrying immigrants to the new world and is picked up by transient Irish fishermen. They leave her with meagre supplies with which to fend alone over the winter. She gathers what food and firewood she can in a simple daily routine. She enjoys her new freedom and her new landscape. Over the winter she is befriended by Nasook, a Beothuk warrior who wants to help her, but he fears reprisal from his village and only comes infrequently.
Genevieve is alone most of the time over the cold dark winter months, and she experiences strange dreams. They feature a woman named Elizabeth and are confusing to her but the reader recognizes depictions of 21st century life.
In the spring, Nasook’s village is tragically scattered and burned by pirates. To keep themselves safe, Nasook and Genevieve escape to a small island off the shore from the cove. They begin a life together.
The narrative explores Genevieve’s internal dialogue and her perceptions of the surroundings. The story flows from love to trauma and back to serenity with dreamlike simplicity.
Genevieve’s story ends the way it began – with a fall from a boat and a swim for her life.
Genevieve wakes up to find she is the woman in her dreams, she is Elizabeth and she is heavily medicated in hospital care. Names of the fishermen reappear as doctors and nurses and the dreamlike storytelling is explained by sedating effects of medicine. However, far from a recovery, the waking world is as fraught with as many hazards as her Newfoundland shoreline and the reader yearns, along with the heroine for the simpler reality. Strowbridge leaves readers with a delicious question: Of reality or imagination, which is more true, and does it matter?
By juxtaposing the complex and insular hospital setting against the fresh, open, simple and natural coastal setting, Strowbridge illustrates how a mental escape or a break from reality gave the heroine’s mind a space to heal and make sense of the issues her psyche faces in the waking world. Strowbridge has matured the “wake up, it was all just a dream” device into a deeper query and comment on the significance of the dreaming consciousness and the value of escape.
A wonderful historical romance rich in descriptive imagery and with a modern twist at the end, this lyrical tale has something to please every reader.
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