Something a little different today, as I am reviewing Born of No Woman by Franck Bouysse and translated by Lara Vergnaud as part of the Random Things Blog Tour, and I hope you’ll check out the rest of the blogs on the tour as well as this impactful book.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Nineteenth-century rural France.
Before he is called to bless the body of a woman at the nearby asylum, Father Gabriel receives a strange, troubling confession: hidden under the woman’s dress he will find the notebooks in which she confided the abuses she suffered and the twisted motivations behind them.
And so Rose’s terrible story comes to light: sold as a teenage girl to a rich man, hidden away in a old manor house deep in the woods and caught in a perverse web, manipulated by those society considers her betters.
A girl whose only escape is to capture her life – in all its devastation and hope – in the pages of her diary…
Born of No Woman intrigued me from the moment I heard about it, perhaps because I do have a weakness for stories that use the idea of using language and writing to carry the heart of the story – and how much power that can give the characters, so ‘A girl whose only escape is to capture her life – in all its devastation and hope – in the pages of her diary…’ immediately caught my attention. There was also something strangely compelling about the cover, and I’m so glad that I gave this one a chance, although it is a hard book to grasp and review.
Firstly, it should be noted that this is certainly not the easiest of reads – in fact in some places it is downright disturbing and harrowing and made all the more so because of how very human it is. Born of No Woman and Rose’s story deals with some of the worst cruelties that people can inflict on one another – and that is why this book hits so hard because it is human and therefore it is incredibly, terrifyingly believable. I have a tendency to read darker books, but this was one that I needed to pause with on occasion – which is a credit to how the author manages to capture and convey the emotions and impact of this story, but also I think it is an essential part of reading this book. You need those moments, those pauses to let the story sink in, to soak up the emotion and atmosphere, and just to appreciate this book.
The atmosphere of this book treads the boundary between gothic and almost fairytale-esque, at least in terms of the setting – and there are some truly beautiful descriptions of the setting, and it made it so easy to visualise. But, it certainly leans more into the gothic with the emotional side, because there are layers of guilt and regret, and grief – not necessarily for death, but for the loss of family, of freedom and so many other things that are essential for humans. It also casts the shadow of those who are the greatest culprits of the cruelty in this story far deeper, because they should feel those emotions but don’t, and it makes for a stark contrast. But, that contrast also captures the fact that beneath the harrowing aspects of Born of No Woman, this book also captures – at least in glimpses and brief moments – the softer sides of humanity. There is hope and kindness, and family even when it is obscured – which both stops this book from becoming too much without lessening the impact in the slightest, but also heightens the darkness.
The characterisation throughout is spot-on, and even the Master and his mother are fantastically compelling even as they have your skin crawling and railing against them. Rose in particular was beautifully written, and she is the one that makes Born of No Woman so compelling – we are following her story, reading about her grief and suffering. We see her at her lowest when she is most vulnerable and so fragile that it seems she will shatter but throughout it all you have to appreciate her strength – both in surviving, but also in being able to write and share her story. To relive it as she puts it into the words, and to be able to find comfort in that process.
It’s beautiful and powerful and raw.
I did find the pacing a little too slow in places, but the storytelling flowed and Born of No Woman is an emotional experience, with an ending that caught me a little by surprise but was a fantastic note to end on. I also want to note that Vergnaud does a fantastic job with the translation. This is a powerful book and one I’m glad that I read and will be thinking about for a while, but it is harrowing and it will not be for everyone – but if you enjoy books that cross genre boundaries, with that gothic atmosphere and packed with emotion that this is a book to add to your TBR.
Franck Bouysse is a French author. His novels Grossir le ciel in 2014, Plateau in 2016 and Glaise in 2017 have met with wide success and won a vast array of literary awards. Previously a teacher of biology and horticulture, Bouysse lives in the south-west of France.
BORN OF NO WOMAN has won every prize awarded by readers in France, including the GRAND PRIX DES LECTRICES ELLE, one of the most important prizes in France. It has also won THE PRIX DES LIBRAIRES (given by booksellers), PRIX PSYCHOLOGIES MAGAZINE and the PRIX BABELIO.