In 2001, a woman’s skeleton was found in the woods overlooking Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital. Despite an audit of the hospital’s patient records, a forensic reconstruction of the woman’s face, missing-person appeals, and DNA tests that revealed not only where she had lived, but how she ate, the woman was never identified. Assigned the name Madame Victoria, her remains were placed in a box in an evidence room and, eventually, forgotten.
But not by Catherine Leroux, who constructs in her form-bending Madame Victoria twelve different histories for the unknown woman. Like musical variations repeating a theme, each Victoria meets her end only after Leroux resurrects her, replacing the anonymous circumstances of her death with a vivid re-imagining of her possible lives. And in doing so, Madame Victoria becomes much more than the story of one unknown and unnamed woman: it becomes a celebration of the lives and legacies of unknown women everywhere.
By turns elegiac, playful, poignant, and tragic, Madame Victoria is an unforgettable book about the complexities of individual lives and the familiar ways in which they overlap.
Catherine Leroux was born in 1979 in the Northern suburbs of Montreal. After holding various jobs she became a journalist and devoted herself to writing. Her first novel, Marche en forêt, was published in 2011 by Éditions Alto, and her newest novel is Madame Victoria (Éditions Alto, 2015). The Party Wall, her English-language debut published with Biblioasis in 2016, was selected for Indies Introduce for Summer/Fall 2016, was shortlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and won the 2016 Governor General’s Award for Translation.
Praise for Madame Victoria
“An unnerving series of portraits . . . both intimately personal and bound to universal elements of mortality, physicality, and femaleness . . . [Leroux] expertly probes fallible, achingly human characters to form a portrait of a lost woman and examine the fragile forces that underlie a life. Gorgeously written, unsettling, and well worth the read.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Leroux is a fearless writer who invokes fable with sure-footed confidence ... The end result is a novel that packs a star’s density of rage and love into its pages, a delicate and unflinching look at the impossibilities of womanhood that is nothing short of incandescent. A testament to the power of fable and myth, Madame Victoria is a triumphant feat of storytelling.” —Quill & Quire (starred review)
“Fun is a word that comes up often when Leroux is talking about her work and its process, but there’s nothing frivolous implied . . . It’s the kind of fun that comes with full creative engagement, with choosing seldom-trod paths and arriving in places you might not have thought you’d reach . . . [Madame Victoria] confirms the 39-year-old Montrealer as one of Canada’s best and most adventurous writers.” —Montreal Gazette “
Equal parts compelling and unsettling . . . Even as Leroux’s descriptions depart from our expectations and reaches for the strange or the surreal or for the unfamiliar emotional landscape, the Victorias’ stories are resonant and disorienting.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“As a follow-up to her Giller Prize-nominated novel The Party Wall, [Madame Victoria] reinforces Leroux’s unique ability to bring unsettling moments to life, bending our sense of reality to accommodate all manner of strange possibility. In yet another masterful translation by Lazer Lederhendler, the reader is both swept away by the beauty of the writing, and captivated by the repeated unravelling of Victoria.” —Montreal Review of Books
“Lazer Lederhendler’s English translation . . . sparks and simmers with numinous prose, allowing Victoria to emerge as a guiding star, the one constant in a shimmering landscape . . . Madame Victoria honors all women on the margins, all women dismissed by society. It tempts us to reconsider the ways in which we think of victims, showing us that if we listened, there is much they could teach us about ourselves.” —Arkansas International