• Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Mar 27, 2008 4:49 PM
The intriguing thing about history is knowing that its intimate details are always just beyond reach. While facts and statistics about times past make up the historical record, the thoughts and emotions of those involved are lost forever. Historical fiction, however, provides us with an entertaining, imagined version of what might have been.

Two Newfoundland authors have each written a novel about the same event in history: In the 16th century, a young French princess, her lover and her servant were cruelly abandoned on an uninhabited island somewhere in the North Atlantic. Left for dead (her punishment for taking a lover before marriage) the princess endured a truly amazing struggle for survival in the harsh land before her chance rescue more than two years later. These facts, painstakingly gleaned from the historical record, provide a frame for each of the works. What happens to that story when two very imaginative people fill the gaps with their own fiction is an interesting comparison of vision and storytelling.

Silence of Stone, by Annamarie Beckel, is a deeply emotional tale told from the viewpoint of the character of Marguerite, as she looks back on, and is still clearly traumatized by, her horrific ordeal years after it's over. Beckel uses dramatic conflict - from the passion between the princess and her lover, to her desperate struggle to survive being stranded - and creates Marguerite as a powerfully emotional character who won't soon be forgotten. Still maddened by her time on the island (a great deal of which was spent alone, after her companions perished), Marguerite tells much of her tale as if she's speaking of another's experience; the pain remains far too raw for Marguerite to admit that such things happened to her. The real journey in this novel ironically begins in the aftermath of Marguerite's ordeal. Silence of Stone is a true page-turner.

In Marguerite of the Isle of Demons, Earl B. Pilgrim has written a more straightforward account of Marguerite's life, describing in great detail the daily routines she undertakes in order to survive. Interjected throughout the story are extra historical facts relating to the era in which she lived and the rugged place where she was abandoned. (In Pilgrim's version, the young princess inhabits Quirpon Island off northern Newfoundland, one of several places historians speculate to be the location - though nobody can know for sure.) While such facts intrude upon the dramatic story of Marguerite, they will likely strike a chord with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in particular, as these notes represent a part of our history as well. Pilgrim has created in Marguerite of the Isle of Demons a thoroughly researched and eye-opening account of what life might have been like for a young noblewoman struggling to survive against the most formidable of odds. - Ashley Colombe
Marguerite of the Isle of Demons
Earl B. Pilgrim
DRC Publishing

  Silence of Stone
Annamarie Beckel
Breakwater Books

Labours of Love: Midwives of Newfoundland and Labrador
Esther Slaney Brown

ImageEsther Slaney Brown's first book is, at times, a deeply moving work that examines the amazing stories of the remarkable women who served as midwives around the province. Many of the vignettes are captured in the words of the midwives themselves or in the firsthand accounts of people who knew them best. The stories (usually a few pages per individual) cover the depth and breadth of the island and parts of Labrador. Midwives frequently worked in the most remote and inhospitable settings without access to any medical facilities or formal training. They served a multitude of roles, taking over where no doctors or nurses were available. They delivered babies, tended to the sick, set wounds and even laid out the dead. The women whose stories are recounted within these pages did whatever needed to be done, often for little or no pay and under the most adverse of circumstances. Labours of Love is a wonderful book that examines a unique topic richly deserving of attention. - Dennis Flynn
DRC Publishing