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.
About the authors
Catherine Leroux is a Canadian novelist who writes usually in French.
Lazer Lederhendler is a full-time freelance translator specializing in contemporary Québécois fiction and nonfiction. His work has earned him many distinctions in Canada and abroad, including multiple nominations for the Governor General’s Literary Award, which he won in 2008 for the translation of Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner. He is also the translator of Gaétan Soucy’s novel, The Immaculate Conception, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award for French to English translation, and the winner of the Cole Foundation Prize for Translation awarded by the Quebec Writers’ Federation. Lazer Lederhendler lives in Montreal.
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
“[K]aleidoscopic, expansive fiction about connections and possibilities.” —Globe & Mail
“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
“An imaginative, haunting, and insightful examination of the lives of women...absorbing and often poignant, Madame Victoria is an achievement, both as a mystery about the missing identity of one woman and in its portrayal of women’s lives more broadly.” —Foreword Reviews
“A unique and inherently fascinating approach to narrative storytelling, and ably translated into English by Lazer Lederhendler . . . unreservedly recommended.” —Midwest Book Review
Praise for Catherine Leroux
“…superbly crafted…Leroux skillfully reveals the inner worlds of her achingly human characters and the intricate bonds that connect them to each other. Images from this beautiful and moving book will haunt readers.” —Publishers Weekly
“…full of insightful passages, dynamic characters and surprising situations. The Party Wall is a searching investigation of familial ties of biology and biography and the complex ways in which self-discovery affects our relationships.” —The Winnipeg Review
“Initially, The Party Wall reads like a collection of linked stories; past the halfway mark, however, it reveals itself as something more intricate and cumulative… A surprising, carefully structured novel that for English readers will bring to mind David Mitchell, this feels much more expansive than its page count.” —The Globe and Mail
“A revelation… an emotionally affecting, intellectually stimulating examination of separation and connection.”—Ian McGillis, Montreal Gazette