The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler
How pleased I was to see The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler on the short list of books nominated for the 2012 Giller Prize. An earlier novel, Your Mouth is Lovely, published in 2002 was – is – a favourite of mine. The 2012 Giller Prize will be awarded on 30 October 2012 – the day before you read this review. I hope The Imposter Bride wins the award, but whether it does or not, this novel is a winner in my opinion!
If you grew up in Montreal in the 1950’s and 60’s as many of my friends did The Imposter Bride is a book that will make you feel that you are stepping right into your own family at that time. In the early 1970’s there were many Montrealers attending university in Toronto, some have been my life-long friends. The families in The Imposter Bride could be any of their families, and the homes I often visited in those years.
The Imposter Bride is in fact based on the author’s own family stories and those of her friends and relatives. “Although the story and circumstances are completely different, like Lily Azerov in the book, my paternal grandmother immigrated to Canada from Europe for the purpose of marriage,” said Richler, in an interview. “But when my grandmother arrives, she is rejected by her prospective bridegroom and forced to face the same crushing rejection that greeted Lily Azerov.”
We meet this Lily Azerov when she arrives in Montreal having survived the holocaust as so many did not. She is to meet her prospective husband and begin a new life, but the man she was to marry rejects her on sight. She is however claimed as a bride by his brother. What neither of these men know is that Lily may not be who she claims to be. She has the name of a young woman with a relative in Montreal, but she does not have the face of that young woman. Is she, or is she not, Lily Azerov? And if she is not, where is the real Lily, and why does this, perhaps false, Lily have her name?
The truth of the matter is slowly revealed as we learn more about Lily and the family she has married into - through the voices of Lily’s daughter, Ruth, her husband, Nathan, her brother-in-law Sol and his wife Elke, her mother-in-law Bella and the family friend, Ida, cousin to the real Lily.
We meet all of these people – characters – early in the novel at Lily and Nathan’s wedding. This wedding is a perfect cameo of all of the family weddings I have attended over a lifetime – there is even the party crasher. How many weddings did we attend that were also attended by Cousin Earl (sometimes with a flashy girlfriend) who had not been invited, but knew most of the other guests? A lot!
We are presented with characters we want to know more about, and the mystery of a disappearance – or two – that we want to see solved. The Imposter Bride is a novel that is very skillfully plotted and written by a woman who knows how to tell a story that captivates her readers.
The Imposter Bride was such a pleasure to read, Nancy Richer (as did her late cousin Mordecai) captures the time and place of a Montreal that is disappearing as our parents generation passes away. My generation has now become the old aunties at the family weddings. As Ida, a woman with the wisdom of old age, says “Life is change, my dear, so we might as well enjoy it, don’t you think”. For all of us, and the characters in The Imposter Bride, good advice.