In the notes and acknowledgements at the end of Madame Victoria, by Catherine Leroux and translated by Lazer Lederhendler, Leroux tells us that this collection of short speculative fiction is meant as a tribute to a woman who remains unidentified. At the beginning of this novel, a Montreal man discovers the decayed skeleton of an unknown woman and begins to wonder how she came to die on a wooded hill near the Royal Victoria hospital.
The first versions of “Madame Victoria’s” life (so nicknamed because of where she was found) are grounded in stories we hear all the time. The first version sees Victoria become a single mother only to become a homeless woman with cancer after her child dies of SIDS. The second version shows us Victoria as a hugely successful but bitter woman, breaking glass ceilings at a Montreal newspaper. In this version, Victoria dies from the effects of lifelong alcoholism. In later version, Victoria is a Russian transgender assassin turned entertainer (probably my favorite iteration), a murdered enslaved woman from America, a time traveler from the future, a woman who is allergic to other people, a plural wife on the run, and more.
Each iteration of Victoria’s tale gets stranger, more fantastical. They all, however, meditate on loneliness. Because only a skeleton was found, the police and the man who found her body have very little to go on. They can only speculate how she got there and how she might have died. Because none of their leads pans out, even the one from a woman who firmly believed that Victoria was her bipolar mother, they can say that whoever she was, she didn’t have anyone to claim her. As the discoverer’s wonderings reveal, there are a lot of ways for a woman to die alone.
Crime statistics for the United States and Canada show us that there are too many women—especially First Nations and Native American women—who die nameless and whose stories are never told. Leroux, I think, succeeds in her efforts at honoring one such woman. While the police will pound the pavements and parse the evidence, I doubt that they have the time to do what Leroux does in Madame Victoria. This book gives one of the lost a series of lives. These lives are sad, sometimes miserable, but they are all unique and special for a variety of reasons. This book moved me.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 16 November 2018.