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The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor: The First Woman Settler on the Miramichi

by Sally Armstrong

In The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor, award-winning journalist Sally Armstrong paints a vivid picture of her great-great-great-grandmother, who survived the deaths of three husbands and one lover, and subsequently raised 10 children in the wilderness. Her story is one of persistence and fortitude, a tale of the New World in the late 18th century that spans significant events in both Canadian and American history.

Armstrong recreates the life of her ancestor by imagining the parts of her history for which there are no records. Through fictional diary entries and dialogue, we follow Taylor from England to the West Indies to a settlement on the Miramichi River in British North America. Along the way, Taylor establishes relationships with local Mi’kmaq, immigrants fleeing shady pasts, and Loyalists arriving after 1783.

This is a fascinating tale told at a lively pace. But Armstrong’s decision to tell Taylor’s story as fiction (which this reviewer believes is the book’s true genre, despite the publisher’s classification of “History/Biography”) leaves the reader looking for history frustrated, especially by the lack of an index. In addition, the author’s admiration of her ancestor has resulted in the creation of a too-perfect character. The book’s credibility suffers due to Taylor’s anachronistically progressive opinions: it seems like wishful thinking on Armstrong’s part that a woman living in that day and age would have such an open mind when it came to, say, the rights of oppressed minorities.

All in all, the book reads like a very good example of historical fiction. But this story would have been more interesting as a non-fiction study of the times in which this remarkable woman lived. Instead, it becomes unclear which parts are actually true, and the reader is ultimately left unsatisfied. Charlotte Taylor would have been better served if the author had simply outlined the many possible reasons for her ancestor’s actions, leaving us to make our own connections with this powerful and captivating woman.