Nicole Renard

An illustration of Nicole, with Francis and LaSalle.
  • Nicole Renard is described, when she first appears in Frenchtown, as a new student all the way from Albany, New York. Francis is smitten by her from the first moment that he sees her. She is small and slender, with shining black hair that fell to her shoulders. She seems shy and modest, according to Francis, but he says that our eyes met and a flash of recognition passed between us, as if we had known each other before. She has a sense of humour, as Francis notes that there is also a hint of mischief in her eyes. Francis explains that luckily she is friends with Marie LaCroix, a girl who lives in his building, so he is able to catch glimpses of Nicole whenever she visits Marie. The two girls have fun as any other teenage girls would, giggling and laughing about all sorts of nonsense which Francis desperately tries, but does not manage, to hear. She is probably not aware of quite how deeply his emotions run for her, though. She enjoys reading modern romantic novels such as Rebecca and A Farewell To Arms.
curriculum-key-fact
A Farewell To Arms was written by Ernest Hemingway and published in 1929. It is a tragic love story set during the First World War. The reference to this book could be seen as a foreshadowing of the terrible event which ruins the lives of Francis and Nicole. Rebecca is a novel by Daphne Du Maurier, published in 1938. It is the story of a marriage threatened by events from the past.
  • We learn how Nicole and her family gradually withdrew from life in Frenchtown before moving away for good, when Francis recalls meeting with Norman Rocheleau during the war, and learns how they left suddenly. The writer creates an atmosphere of mystery around the Renard family when Norman says, All kinds of rumours about her, Francis, and continues, She was like... A hermit. Then she was gone. Her and her family. Left Frenchtown without telling anybody.
  • Nicole began to come to the Wreck Centre during its first season, and she joined the dancing group. Francis used to watch her, saying She seemed to exist in a world of her own, like a rare specimen, bird-like and graceful as she danced, separate from the rest of the dancers. It is important to note that the reader is seeing Nicole through Francis’ very biased eyes. She is a normal young girl, not an angel or a saint, even though Francis compares her with St Thérèse. One day when Francis defeats Joey LeBlanc in a table tennis match, she blows a kiss at him. This is just a flirtatious gesture on her part, but of course Francis examines what it could mean, eventually thinking that he must have imagined it. Later, on the day that Francis defeats Larry, Nicole calls Francis her champion and leans so close that her breath was warm on [his] cheek.
  • Nicole is a kind girl, and wants to help people. She becomes a volunteer... with the Monument Red Cross... preparing food kits for servicemen.
  • Nicole is flattered but alarmed by Larry LaSalle’s attentions. This highlights her naivety. Larry makes it clear that she is his favourite girl at the Wreck Centre and Nicole enjoys this. She even arranges for an after-show party to be held at her house because Larry says that’s what people in show business do. It is interesting that Nicole simultaneously enjoys Larry’s attention, yet obviously feels uncomfortable about being alone with him. On the night of Larry’s heroic return, when all the other children have left the Wreck Centre, leaving only Francis, Nicole and Larry there, Larry tells Francis to go. Throughout the evening Nicole has said to Francis, Stay close to me, then, Stay and watch, and finally, Don’t go. Francis leaves because he would not dream of disobeying Larry, but the interesting point is that Nicole was also free to leave. Larry did not force her to stay alone with him. Therefore her blaming of Francis was unfair.
  • She takes a long time to understand that what happened that night was Larry’s fault alone. She admits this to Francis at the end of the novel, adding that she felt unable to blame Larry because she knew that nobody would believe her: The police? He was a big war hero. He didn’t beat me up. No visible wounds. She apologises to Francis, saying I shouldn’t have said those things to you that day... You weren’t to blame for what happened. She adds, I realised that later... So the reader sees that, like Francis, she has carried a heavy burden for years.
  • Nicole is realistic at the end. She knows that she and Francis can never be together. In the three years since she was raped she has had to deal with her feelings of resentment and betrayal, and Francis has gone through hell in the war. She has found a level of contentment with her studies and tells Francis to have a good life.

Flirtatious

How is Nicole like this?

Nicole enjoys teasing Francis when she knows that he likes her.

Evidence

Don’t fall off, Francis.

Analysis

Nicole knows that Francis is shy and awkward and when she sees him perching on the banisters, she cannot help making a joke of it.

Innocent

How is Nicole like this?

Nicole is like all the children at the Wreck Centre and enjoys receiving attention from Larry.

Evidence

Larry says that’s what people in show business do.

Analysis

The fact that Nicole’s parents allow her to hold an after-show party at their house shows how even the adults were taken in by Larry. Nobody considers for a moment that he has another motive for being with the children.

Romantic

How is Nicole like this?

Nicole loves reading and tells Francis which books she has enjoyed.

Evidence

...she wept as she read the final pages of A Farewell To Arms.

[I saw the movie of Rebecca] but I liked the book better.

Analysis

A Farewell To Arms is a love story set against the background of the First World War. In the end the woman dies in childbirth, showing that human tragedy is eternal, not just during war. This mirrors what happens to Nicole and Francis.

Rebecca is the story of a newly-married woman whose happiness is threatened by the shadow of her husband’s dead first wife. This reflects the way that a person’s dark past can affect future happenings.

Unfair to Francis

How is Nicole like this?

Nicole blames Francis for not helping her when Larry raped her.

Evidence

You were there all the time.

You didn’t do anything.

You knew what he was doing, didn’t you?

Why didn’t you do something? Tell him to stop. Run for help. Anything.

Analysis

A few days after the assault, Nicole blames Francis for what happened to her. She does not even consider the fact that Francis was just obeying Larry, as she was. In addition, it should be remembered that Nicole stayed with Larry of her own accord; nobody forced her to stay.

Finds closure

How is Nicole like this?

Nicole admits that she was flattered by Larry but accepts that what happened was his fault.

Evidence

I know what he was. For a while there he made me feel special.

I’m sorry about one thing... What I did to you that day.

The long black hair that fell to her shoulders is gone.

Analysis

It has taken a long time for Nicole to stop blaming Francis for what happened to her.

It is clear that, because she felt unable to accuse Larry, she lashed out at the only other person who knew about it.

She changes her appearance to be more severe and less obviously attractive to men.

Analysing the evidence

For one lightning moment, I don’t recognise her, fail to see Nicole Renard in the girl who has just entered the room. The long black hair that fell to her shoulders is gone. Now her hair is cut short and combed straight and flat, with wisps touching her ears. Her cheek-bones are more prominent and her eyes seem to be bigger. I look at her as if studying a painting in a museum, searching for that glimpse of mischief in her eyes, but see only the question there.

Question

How does Cormier show the ways that Nicole has changed in this extract?

When Francis sees Nicole for the first time in almost three years, he is unprepared for how different she looks. She has chopped her hair off, as if to rid herself of her most feminine and attractive feature. She has obviously suffered, shown by the thinner face and bigger eyes.

Often, a person’s gaunt appearance shows that he or she has suffered, and the reader can assume that Nicole has felt anger, stress and indeed guilt about how she treated Francis after the assault. It has taken her all this time to come to terms with what Larry did to her and to accept that Francis was not the one to blame. Francis was always attracted by her sense of mischief, but that has completely disappeared.

The question in her eyes asks who her visitor is – she does not recognise Francis behind his disguise. Nicole has changed from an innocent, fun-loving girl to a wiser, sadder adult.