Voyageurs has garnered praise for its historical versimilitude and its exacting character portraits, as well as the story's contemporary relevance. Margaret Elphinstone's magnificent sixth novel gives us Mark Greenhow, a naive and peaceful Quaker who lands on the shores of North America on the eve of the War of 1812, thinking only of finding the missing sister he has always admired for her adventurous spirit.
Mark hitches a ride with the voyageurs who have canoed the rivers, transporting the tons of furs that feed the trade that has made the region a battleground of the French and British empires. Though Mark enters this brave new world with his conscience clean and his convictions sound, his encounters test his rigid upbringing. The backwoods of Canada have certainly led his sister astray; she has been excommunicated from the Society of Friends for running off with a non-Quaker. After her child is stillborn she runs again, deep into Indian country.
Elphinstone's crisp and effortless prose, coupled with her riveting, organic descriptions, her fully drawn characters, and the history of the region, make this novel an astonishingly authentic and profoundly satisfying work of historical fiction.
Margaret Elphinstone is the author of eight novels, including The Incomer (1987), A Sparrow's Flight (1989), Islanders (1994), The Sea Road (2000), Hy Brasil (2002), Voyageurs (2003) and Light (2006). She has also had published short stories, poetry and two books on organic gardening. Her next book, And Some There Be, will be published by Canongate in 2009. She lives in Glasgow and teaches at the University of StrathclydeFrom Publishers Weekly :
Presented as a manuscript discovered by the author in the attic of her country house in the North of England, this meticulously crafted, self-reflexive historical novel tells the story of Mark Greenhow, whose Quaker family once owned the house. In 1811, Mark's younger sister, Rachel, while doing missionary work in Canada, met and married Adam Mackenzie, a Scot associated with the fur trade in North America. Because the marriage was outside the order, Rachael was disowned; subsequently, she lost her baby and mysteriously disappeared into the wilds of what is today northern Michigan. Determined to discover his sister's fate, Mark departs for Canada, where he spends nearly two years sorely testing his Quaker faith through episodes that reveal to him the wider world beyond his placid English countryside. In the meantime, the War of 1812 rages and Mark tries to avoid the kinds of "vain" entanglements that would contradict his beliefs. The inclusion of Mark's own footnotes, lengthy discourses and commentary on his adventures and their aftermath lessens the story's suspense. The novel's interest lies in Mark's struggle to reconcile his faith with the verities and practicalities of the "real world" and in Elphinstone's mastery of early 19th-century argot.
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