Published by Scribner on June 14th 2016
Genres: historical fiction
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way altered my opinion of it. Cross my heart.
In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters—barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years—their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.
Barkskins was a dousy.
It sat, monstrously, on my shelf, staring at me for a month and a half before I decided to try and tackle it.
I’m still on the fence about whether I enjoyed it or not. I mean I did, but to a degree.
It was incredibly interesting to see the story unfold, generation to generation. I love hearing about people’s history, and Barkskins definitely reached that deep down love for me. Each character was wonderful in his or her own way, and they were all very distinct. It felt like I was actually watching history unfold instead of reading a novel about it. It was cool to see the history of family as well as a more broad history at the same time.
The writing, mmm! I’ve never read anything else by Annie Proulx, but I might have to go check out her other novels now. Her writing is wonderful. The entire novel was rich with detail. I don’t even have proper words to explain how much I loved her writing. I liked that since the beginning of the story takes place in New France, she included some French in the dialogue, but worked in the explanations afterwards. My Grade 9 French is pretty rusty but I was still able to understand what was going on.
The downside to this rich writing, and why I’m not entirely sure if I enjoyed the novel or not, is because it was laborious. It takes away from the story if I’m constantly having to push myself to read a book. I normally don’t have an issue reading long books, but because it’s based more on details and less on action (the action I prefer at least), it dragged for me. I had to pay attention to so much detail, so many different characters (there are family trees in the back which are helpful some of the time), that my brain started to hurt. I didn’t know what was going to be important for later on or what wasn’t. I struggled hard, but I also enjoyed the story, so I DON’T KNOW.
My only suggestion is that if you like history and have the time to read details, pick up this book. If you’re looking for some fast paced light reading, maybe this isn’t the book you should be looking at. It’s definitely one of those novels you have to be in the mood for, but when the moods right, it’s fantastic.