Barkskins is Annie Proulx’s fifth novel, which was released in January 2016. Epic, powerful, and engaging from page one, Barkskins follows two Frenchmen René and Duquet who are indentured to a seigneur Trépagny in New France. There they are to become barkskins, wood cutters. From these two men the reader follows their lineage and the travels they make which takes us through Canada, the United States, and as far away as New Zealand.
The recurring man against nature theme is present throughout the novel. We witness the simultaneous destruction of the Native Indians and of their land. The Native Indians’ desire to live in symbiosis with nature while the white settlers only desire to clear the trees and to force the savage surroundings into their new homes at all cost. The first half of the book clearly depicts the brutality used to clear off all that was undesired by the white settlers. As for the Native Indians they were forced to accept the ways of the white settlers or to perish like their ancestors.
The lineages of René and Duquet are perfect examples of how people go about surviving in such difficult unchartered territory. It’s survival of the fittest. Proulx uses fire as a way of wiping the slate clean because with each new generation comes more hopes and dreams to be had.
Barkskins reads as an epic novel on a grand scale. There is much to take in from detailed descriptions of lumbering practices to unforgettable characters that will suck you into the story and make you forget that the novel is 713 pages. Not to mention, Prouxl’s writing is stellar. She never misses a beat to let you know the slightest thing about a character in one seemingly insignificant sentence. It’s all in the details people. If you’re a detailed reader you’ll catch all that she wants to say about a character without spending too much time. The pacing is perfect and has the ups and downs needed to keep a large epic novel like this moving. If there are any books that are a must read this year it’s Barkskins. You won’t be disappointed. Proulx even manages to make the story come full circle and to give us a bit of a message at the end. Perfection! I was so afraid the ending was going to be flat but she finessed it beautifully, henceforth me giving Barkskins 5 stars.
My copy: Barkskins, Hardcover, 736 pages – Fourth Estate
My rating: 5 stars
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