Visiting Elizabeth

a bilingual novel/un roman bi-langue

A friendship between two women begins and ends with a needle. This novel set in Montréal harnesses the power of the French and English languages and charges them with new energy and rhythms.
Ariane Claude has Elizabeth to thank for teaching her to speak her mind. And at nineteen, cette Montréalaise has plenty to say. But then, she is stopped in mid-sentence as Elizabeth is struck and killed by a car. How will Ariane practise without her mentor? Aucun problème. She will speak for two. Soon, a hybrid language rolls off her tongue, Elizabeth’s English and Ariane’s native French woven so fine they can no longer be separated. Just like the clothes Ariane sews by hand, transforming bedspreads, curtains, maman’s wedding dress. The fibres remain while form and function change. And so trying new patterns, she discovers irresistible connections between two cultures.

Reviews for Visiting Elizabeth

“I used to think there wasn’t much more to Canadian culture than Margaret Atwood and empty space. D’oh! […]Gisele Villeneuve’s Visiting Elizabeth tackles the problem of bilingualism by being written in both English and French without translation, imparting the unique sensibilities and tensions of Montreal.”
Jean Hannah Edelstein, The Guardian online

“Visiting Elizabeth, by the truly bilingual writer Gisèle Villeneuve, is a Canadian masterpiece. […] Written mainly in English but peppered with French expressions and sentences, Visiting Elizabeth could not have been written anywhere but in Canada. Bilingual readers will rejoice.”
Marguerite Andersen, Canadian Book Review Annual

“Villeneuve’s narrative doublespeak is bracing proof that the two solitudes can make captivating bedfellows. […] Villeneuve’s blending of two tongues is caramel-smooth. I found myself catching French meanings on the fly, subliminally. Her prose runs at the heady pace of Claudette’s compulsively inquisitive, subversive inner voice. The constant overlap of French and English, objects and meanings recast in alternating tongues, makes the images shimmer with clarity and colour. This book sometimes makes language itself seem to double in expressive power.”
Jim Bartley, The Globe and Mail 

“Visiting Elizabeth is a delicately woven story from a pocket of time. Villeneuve captures an era and place masterfully in her feminine prose. She plays with the art of storytelling, in the recounting and adapting of l’histoire ancienne. […] There is a rumbling sense of momentum throughout, a feeling of moving forward. “Where?” Ariane asks. “We don’t know. But forward. Peut-être, to go forward, we must go underground a little.””
Poppy Wilkinson, Montreal Review of Books

“In this novel, Villeneuve has created a character and narrative that do not comply with more traditional (and linear) through-lines. […] In Villeneuve’s story, however, this contemporary Ariadne uses her thread to lead herself through her own maze and ultimately, despite the novel’s shocking resolution, Ariane rescues and reinvents herself with her own needle and thread.”
Nancy Jo Cullen, Alberta Views

“Gisèle Villeneuve […] has written a bilingual book full of provocative insights into how we speak in both languages. […] She has a knack for capturing the bewildered delight one feels while learning a new tongue.”
Claire Rothman, The Gazette, Montréal

“Villeneuve deftly captures the sights, sounds and flavours of bohemian Montreal at the end of the ‘60s. The hurtling, present-tense breathlessness of Ariane’s language is particularly suited to the heady pace of the time. […] The novel’s ending is a brilliant piece of virtuoso writing, and a perfect thematic climax to the book. […] Each chapter is a microcosm of the book and a marvel of structure and detail, circling around a central image, place or event in a heady back-and-forth seesaw of past and present. […] Canadian fiction loves to jump from exotic location to exotic location, but isn’t nearly as strong on writing across its own linguistic divides. Let’s hope we see more work of this kind in the near future, and more, too, from Villeneuve.”
Melanie Little, The Ottawa Citizen

“Like an inspired seamstress deftly dipping her needle in and out of fine cloth, Gisèle Villeneuve creates a marvellous tapestry of a book […]. Villeneuve adds a particularly Canadian – or Québécois – dimension. Claudette/Ariane is completely, brilliantly bilingual, and her thoughts jump from one language to another […].”
Mary Soderstrom, Quill & Quire