Kamouraska – Anne Hébert

I am generally not into the whole “trapped, sad wife in olden times” genre. Edith Wharton is the only writer who has managed to make that story palatable for me, and it’s on the strength of her writing and the fact that her female characters are generally decent people or very entertainingly terrible people (see Undine Spragg in The Custom of the Country, one of my favorite books of all time).

But Kamouraska was everything that I wished those books were. It is translated from the French, but even with the language barrier Hébert’s voice as a writer comes through. She writes Elisabeth’s story in fits and starts, seamlessly transitioning between scenes from her idyllic childhood, her disastrous marriage to an alcoholic squire, her passionate affair with an American doctor and their plot to murder her husband, and her current quiet life as a wife and mother.

It seems like these types of books often either one of two ways: 1) the woman and her lover end up together happily ever after, or 2) one of them dies or commits suicide. Kamouraska ends with neither, and provides no real closure. It’s another example of how it is such a refreshing entry in the genre.