Thursday, March 25, 2010

Book Review: "Savage Lands"

Clare Clark's third novel (after The Great Stink and The Nature of Monsters) is Savage Lands (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010), set in the wilds of early eighteenth-century Louisiana. The heroine, Elisabeth Savaret, is one of the "casket girls," sent from France to provide wives for the early settlers. The other main character is Auguste Guichard, left with a native community as a young boy to learn their language and become a translator/diplomat between the tribes and the French.

The novel tracks the lives of Elisabeth and Auguste, which naturally come to intersect through the activities of Elisabeth's husband, the ensign Jean-Claude Barbelon. Disaster eventually ensues, but you'll have to read the book to get the whole story.

Clark's writing remains as vivid and as lovely as it was in her earlier works, and she is able to pace out the narrative in a way that few others can manage to do, dropping in hints here and there without ever spoiling the ending. Using historical sources (the research process for this book must have been intense!) she's created a rich, vibrant, beautiful, and yes, savage landscape. A sense of the harshness of conditions - human and otherwise - never quite left me as I read this book; it's more than a little disturbing at points, but well worth a read.