Madame Victoria

Cather­ine Ler­oux Lazer Leder­hendler (Trans­la­tor)

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction / Nonfiction -

Bi­b­lioa­sis (NOVEM­BER) Soft­cover $14.95 (240pp) 978-1-77196-207-0

Madame Victoria is an imag­i­na­tive, haunt­ing, and in­sight­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of the lives of women.

Shortly af­ter the mil­len­nium, a skele­ton is dis­cov­ered on the grounds of Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospi­tal. It is iden­ti­fied as hav­ing be­longed to a woman fifty­ish, Cau­casian, and who died non­vi­o­lently. The un­claimed skele­ton is dubbed Madame Victoria. A se­ries of vi­gnettes fol­lows, con­jur­ing Victoria in a va­ri­ety imag­ined lives.

The ear­li­est chap­ters of the book are its most lit­eral. As an un­wed mother who slips into per­ma­nent psy­chosis af­ter her in­fant dies, an acer­bic and very al­co­holic news­woman who smashes the glass ceil­ing, and a fos­ter-home teen who re­neges on a sui­cide pact, Victoria is achingly real and be­liev­able.

As Victoria’s sto­ries con­tinue to un­spool, they drift far­ther from re­al­ity, tak­ing shape as metaphors or merg­ing re­al­ity with el­e­ments of hor­ror and sci­ence fic­tion. The tale of a run­away Mor­mon wife be­set by too many chil­dren reaches new heights of hon­esty, cap­tur­ing mo­ments of ma­ter­nal dis­gust be­fore de­monic chil­dren take their re­venge.

A chap­ter that trans­forms Victoria into a nine­teenth-cen­tury slave im­pedes the del­i­cate time frame that holds the sto­ries to­gether; a tale that thrusts Victoria into the male body of a cross-dress­ing spy is too gim­micky to be im­pact­ful. The book bounces back to life with a piece that makes Victoria a twenty-fifth-cen­tury megacelebrity who emerges in present-day Montreal, only to live her life as a bag lady.

Plau­si­ble re­al­i­ties deftly por­tray the in­te­rior lives and un­spo­ken tragedies of or­di­nary women. Suc­cinct, pierc­ing in­sights are scat­tered along the trails of each story; they are a plea­sure. A fine trans­la­tion by Lazer Leder­hendler pre­serves the dis­tinct fla­vor of the book’s Cana­dian French.

Ab­sorb­ing and of­ten poignant, Madame Victoria is an achieve­ment, both as a mys­tery about the miss­ing iden­tity of one woman and in its por­trayal of women’s lives more broadly. SUSAN WAGGONER

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