by Michelle Moran
The French Revolution seems to be a thing lately. There have been several historical novels about Marie Antoinette and the Revolution published in recent years. Perhaps it’s the new Tudors, I don’t know. I have read a few, since it IS a very interesting period of history, and Marie Antoinette IS still a controversial and intriguing figure. Moran’s novel is the best I have read yet about this period.
The strength of the novel is in her use of Marie Grosholtz, later Marie Tussaud, as the narrator. Many people have heard of Madame Tussaud because of the world famous wax museums, but I think perhaps she is not such a widely known figure in and of herself. As such, I feel there would be a little more room for creative license. Moran took that license and ran with it in the best way possible. This is a lovely book about a horrible period of time and it works extremely well to be told from a different perspective than the standard one of Marie Antoinette.
While Marie Antoinette is a very sympathetic figure, much maligned and misrepresented throughout history, she is too isolated from the actual Revolution and the Reign of Terror to tell as reliable a story about it. A person not of the aristocracy, such as Marie Grosholtz, is a much better narrator for the book, since we can more easily see and believe both perspectives of the Revolution. Marie and her family did an admirable job of balancing between the two worlds, between being royalists and patriots.
Focusing as well only on the last five years of the reign of Louis XVI was also a good call on Moran’s part. Her story is about the Revolution, the Reign of Terror, and the impact it had over time on everyday citizens. There is no need to discuss the early life of Marie Grosholtz, and it would have been a huge waste of time if attention had been given to that, or to the years of political turmoil and social unrest leading up to the Revolution. Instead, the novel showed the conflicting interests and concerns those citizens had. Marie was a very caring person underneath her pragmatism, and we can see how she was worried about how events would impact not only her friends, but the royal family, with whom she had a small connection. It was lovely and painful to see, and I’m sure it was something that people had genuinely felt during the Revolution.
I truly enjoyed this one, and felt it was an honest, compassionate perspective on the French Revolution.