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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Governor's Daughter

Paule Constant

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To purchase The Governor's Daughter

Title: The Governor's Daughter
Author: Paule Constant
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994 (Eng. 1998)
Length: 155 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Governor's Daughter - US
The Governor's Daughter - UK
The Governor's Daughter - Canada
La Fille du gobernator - Canada
La Fille du gobernator - France
Die Tochter des Gobernators - Deutschland
  • French title: La Fille du gobernator
  • Translated and with a Preface by Betsy Wing

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Our Assessment:

B+ : pitch-black tale, effectively presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 5/12/1995 Winfried Wehle
World Lit. Today A Spring/1995 Danielle Chavy Cooper

  From the Reviews:
  • "Auffälligstes Merkmal: Er hat alles, was auch Unterhaltungsliteratur hat. Geradezu rücksichtslos setzt er sich über alle kopfgeborenen Richtlinien hinweg, auf die die Gattung gerne festgelegt wird. Auch den dunklen Anzug tieferer Bedeutungen trägt er nicht. Statt dessen hat er eine elementare Freßlust, die sich alles einverleibt, um den Leser zu locken." - Winfried Wehle, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "La fille du Gobernator somehow allies, in surprising harmony, such contradictory elements as classicism, the baroque, and modernism with dazzling virtuosity. One finds here solid craftsmanship in format, characters, images, and style, with every sentence, every chapter adding concisely to the overall effect. (...) La fille du Gobernator is indeed an extraordinary, many-faceted novel, superbly structured and written." - Danielle Chavy Cooper, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Governor's Daughter is set in a French penal colony in Cayenne, French Guiana, in the 1920s. The girl at the centre of the story is the daughter of the new Governor of the penal colony -- the Gobernator -- and his wife, a very religious nurse known as the Mother of God. Chrétienne is seven, and when she's asked on the voyage whether she's sure that they're her parents she pretty readily responds: "I'm not their daughter".
       Biologically she is, but it's understandable that she can't really see herself related to these two. They took vows of poverty, humility, and chastity, and promised:

to dedicate themselves to the service of the poorest of the poor, the most deprived, the most despised.
       And they take Chrétienne along with them for the ride.
       The penal colony is certainly about the most hellish destination they could have chosen. Appropriate for their self-serving (and, in a way, sacrificing) ambitions, it's hardly an environment fit for a young girl. Worse yet, they hardly concern themselves with her welfare, becoming obsessed with following their own horrible paths -- all too easy in this place. ("I want to be a leper lady", Mother of God announced her calling to her parents in her teens -- and now she's finally somewhere where she can pursue her dream .....)
       That Chrétienne is desperate for some sort of normality is clear from early on, when she wants to adopt the barge-toad -- what her mother sees as:
the most enormous, the most gigantic, the fattest toad -- the likes of which even in her worst nightmares she could never have imagined existing
       She wants him "out of love and friendship" -- apparently not having had a teddy bear or doll to cling onto in quite a while. (She doesn't get to keep that toad, but others are procured for her -- and then, almost as quickly, made to disappear.)
       Ex-convicts play a large role on the island, and are hired as servants and the like (among the advice Mother of God receives: "Never hire a thief, only murderers"). Mother of God will have nothing less than the worst, the dregs no one else wanted (which says a lot here) -- and she's thrilled to assemble: "My TERRIFIC TEAM" (avoiding saying 'servant' or 'gang'). She also hands over Chrétienne to one Planchon. Hardly the best choice to oversee her and her education, given that he can't even read ..... (Eventually they at least get someone to tutor her, though she prefers recess with Plachon.)
       It's hardly an idyll, but the child tries to make the best out of it, and Constant does a nice job of showing the local absurdities through the child's eyes. The perverse parents, however, always bring her back down to this very ugly earth. Among the most horrific bits is when Chrétienne sets her mind on getting a dog. When Dad says no, he really means no.
       There's some release, as she's eventually rid of both parents (yes, mom was able to follow her lifelong dream ...). She becomes literally: "sick as a dog", as if only violent illness could purge all the horrors her parents had inflicted. But even getting sent home doesn't sound like it will offer a reprieve: the friendly relatives know just what to do with her:
"You'll be repatriated, and then you're going to go to the nuns of the Sacred Dead."
       Pitch-black, with a very dark humour, The Governor's Daughter is a gripping but occasionally hard to take work. It's almost overwhelmingly vivid, with many very nicely observed pieces, such as the bits of meat Chrétienne tosses under the table, rising slowly up again (clearly in the grips of flies or other insects). The self-obsessed parents are perhaps too terrible, their neglect and what amounts to mistreatment of their daughter incredibly frustrating. Still, it is a gripping novel. Worthwhile.

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The Governor's Daughter: Reviews: Other books by Paule Constant under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Paule Constant has won numerous literary prizes.

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© 2006-2021 the complete review

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