Saturday, July 17, 2021

Book Review: The Brideship Wife

The Brideship Wife 
by Leslie Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While this book is well written, with a spunky heroine, and a fast paced narrative; I can’t in good conscious give it the full four stars I might if it was only fiction. The reality is it is not just fiction; but historical fiction, and so the commentary, ethical/morale choices, and societal arrogance of the book should represent the time period.

Our leading lady being insistent she wouldn't take 'free land' from the government because it 'didn't belong to them' is so far from what a women in that time period would have understood or thought I just struggle with it. While that is what we all wish they realized or thought; the reality is that they likely didn't. And so I don't like the way Leslie Howard makes our leading lady seem more aware and culturally understanding than any woman of the time period was likely to be. It just feels wrong.

This book falls down regarding it’s handling of the colonization of what eventually becomes British Columbia. Particularly regarding the seizure of land from the Indigenous tribes. It feels like it was written by a privileged white women (which yes I am also) whom wanted to try to say the right things but just doesn't actually consider what the women in the real historical situation would have thought or done. Howard does a great job of researching the actual circumstances of many of these women and how their lives ended up after coming across on a crazy journey. However I just don't think you can say some things; make your character seem all righteous, and not delve deeply into the tragic history. In the end it made the commentary on colonization appropriated in order to give our leading lady a more moral existence. This is inherently not okay.
Is it sad that the women of the time likely didn't understand? Yes.
Is it sad that even if they did they would have had little to no power to stop it? Yes.

But pretending the women were aware or attuned to the sufferings of the Indigenous tribes just feels wrong to me. Especially when none of our ladies stand up to say something; or make a huge difference in the lives of the people who were being colonized (aka: conquered). I'm sorry but delivering a small amount of vaccine for the smallpox is just not near enough to make her settling down somehow acceptable.

The Ending
I have a real pet peeve when it comes to book endings, and unfortunately The Brideship Wife hit it bang on. Everything magically seems to work out in the last 20 pages. Suddenly our leading lady doesn't need any 'free land' or a handout from others. She just has the world become her oyster and everything lands in her lap. I'm sorry but real life is NOT like this at all.
Additionally it just adds to the entire attempted touch regarding the destruction of the Indigenous bands and lands as insulting. It makes me think of a scar leftover from a wound. In no way does the 'free land' from the government or our leading ladies choices seem to put the Indigenous lands at risk in the end. And yet she still ends up happily living in (what will be) Western Canada. Hypocrite much?

I get that the point of this historical fiction is to tell the story of these women who were either (essentially) sold to be wives of the new settlers on the West of the 'New World'; or those whom actually volunteered. What was just too hard to take here was the passing commentary on the sufferings of the Indigenous and the devastating affect colonization had. I get that may of the colonists, especially women like this, might not have realized the situation and/or not had any power to truly change the eventual outcomes. But I just feel like in today's society, especially recently in Canada, it's not to just pay lip service anymore. Yes this book was about women whom left everything behind for a chance at a good life, and many at great expense to their possible, original dreams. I just couldn't help but feel like the thoughts of our leading lady regarding the Indigenous were just a way to try and tell this historical story without blaming the women for the situation. That didn't sit well with me. And so regardless of decent writing and solid character development I just can't give this anymore than 3 stars; and I think even that is being generous.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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1 comment:

Leonore Winterer said...

Yeah, that doesn't sit so well with me, either. It's like saying 'See, women wanted to do right, but they were powerless' when really, everyone as at fault of this 'white people own everything' way of thinking. That doesn't mean that people couldn't be 'good' and still partake in this school of thought, it's just one big fault society had back then and needs to own up to now. But that seems to be an issue nowadays, anyways, that people could be more than 'good' and 'bad', everyone has multiple facets to their character and we condemn some of them and still celebrate others - at least I think we should be able to do that! Hope my rambling here makes some kind of sense, haha, I know it's kind of a sensitive topic and I don't want to step on any toes, either.