Pub date: March 31, 2002
Rights: Canada and US
In the summer of 1806, a young Orkney woman disguised herself as a man and signed on with the Hudson's Bay Company to travel to what was then called Rupert's Land. For a year and a half she hid her identity and her deception was revealed only when she was giving birth to a baby boy. In less than an hour, she turned from John Fubbister into Isobel Gunn. Very little is known about the real woman - her birth certificate, a few entries in the Hudson's Bay Company logbook, a line in the census, her obituary. Audrey Thomas has taken the threads of Isobel Gunn's story and turned them into a compelling novel about an unusual woman, her short life, and the effect she had on those around her.
Audrey Thomas first heard the story of Isobel Gunn while she was living in Scotland in the mid-1980s. She was based in Edinburgh for a year as a Canada-Scotland Literary Fellow and travelled extensively within the country. A number of years later, Thomas was on assignment in Scotland's Orkney Isles for Saturday Night Magazine when she heard the story again and decided she had to write about it. There was little factual material available, but Thomas spent four years researching the story and the colourful era in which it took place. Her research led to the rich texture of the book, incorporating historically accurate details of the period and capturing the social attitudes of the day.
"Brilliant . . . this is historical fiction at its very best." - National Post
"Captivating and tragic . . . the courageous Isobel lingers in the reader's imagination." - Maclean's
"A fine novel . . . [Thomas's] point of view tantalizes and seduces the reader, who is moved by her keen understanding of relationships . . . More than anything this is a work about the healing power of love: a mother's love for her child; a friend's love for his friend; a husband's love for his wife; and a clergyman's love for the destitute." - Globe and Mail