Thursday, January 5, 2012

Book Review: Madame Tussaud, by Michelle Moran

Readers interested in the French Revolution will find no better fiction than Madame TussaudTold from the perspective of Marie, an artist who creates lifelike was figures for her uncle's salon, this story immerses the reader into life during this horrific time in French history.

When I opened the book and saw a timeline, a map, and a list of characters, I was a bit put off. But, as I began to read, I really didn't use any of those things very much. The characters weren't introduced all at once, and I didn't have any difficulties keeping track. I did use the glossary of French terms in the back of the book, but most of those were understandable from the context of the writing also.

Some prominent figures in the orchestration of this revolution frequent the salon where Marie, her mother, and her "uncle" live and work. It is interesting to see throughout the developments how this family walks a fine line with respect to their politics. They try very hard to keep the revolutionaries as well as the royalists believing in their support. Marie is asked to teach wax modeling to Princesse Elisabeth, the king's sister, and in the process becomes acquainted with the King, Queen, and their children. She is also asked by the revolutionaries to make wax models of the infamous people who are beheaded.

I learned a lot about the French Revolution.  I didn't realize how the King was kept in the dark about the true plight of the common people. He really had no idea how starved and destitute they were. He also had difficulty making decisions, and the Queen didn't try to sway him (I think she was smarter than he was.)

I didn't realize how much Lafayette and his friend Thomas Jefferson had to do with this revolution.

I don't mean to make light of war, but this revolution as depicted makes our U.S. Revolutionary War seem like a carnival. The brutality and wanton disregard for one's guilt or innocence is hard to comprehend. I've heard of Robespierre before, but had no idea what he became throughout this revolution (that he helped to initiate.) He wanted to overthrow the monarchy, but became so much worse than any king had ever been. I love when a book can entertain AND educate me. That's the reason historical fiction is really my favorite genre.

The settings were exquisitely done. I have been to Paris, and in particular Versailles, which I suppose helped me visualize some places, but I could feel the mud on my boots and see the blood in the streets. The beautiful gowns, the feasts, the jewels, as well as the descriptions of the prisons and the massacres were vivid.

I really cared about Marie and her family as the story went on. I rooted for their success.There's a love story too, and it is heartbreaking, but real. Some would say that Marie was a bit ruthless and unfeeling, but it worked well for her. She survived, which apparently tens of thousands of Parisians did not. She was obviously very intelligent.

The villains are richly portrayed as well--realistically, so that they aren't alway villainous. There is ambiguity and many disagreements between those who want to be rid of the king, but end up wanting all the power for themselves.

I loved this book, and will give it a high rating. But, realistically, it isn't for everyone. It's long and detailed. But it is very well written and easily kept my attention, so it is a must read for historical fiction lovers and especially fans of the French Revolution. Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution was my favorite book of 2010, and this one is an excellent companion.

Published by Crown, February 15, 2011
Purchased personal copy
440 pages

Rating: 4/5

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  1. I have this book sitting on my TBR shelf and have been intimidated by its length, but your review is helping me push it closer to the "read it sooner rather than later" pile. I taught World History for 15 years and the French Revolution was one of my favorite units so my guess is I am going to enjoy this one

  2. I love long, detailed historical fiction so this probably is the perfect book for me. I also enjoyed Cleopatra's Daughter by the same author. Thanks for the thoughtful review.

  3. I'm no stranger to historical fiction or Michelle Moran so I think I will enjoy this one once I can get a copy. I like long and detailed. :)

    I don't know how it was possible, but you've made me want to read this even more! Thank you!

    The Musings of ALMYBNENR

  4. I keep wanting to get this book. I've heard good things. For some reason the cover kind of convinced me not to read it. It didn't seem like my kind of book but I think I've been missing out.

  5. Wonderful review, truly. You made me want to run out and get this book right now (*breathe, Small, resist temptation!*).

    I've been on a bit of a French Revolution kick lately between my reading about Marie Antoinette and my fiance's (continued) reading about the Napoleonic wars. It was such a horrifying, brutal, and chaotic time. Very different from the sweet singing orphans view in Les Mis the musical!

    I've been wanting to read a Michelle Moran book for a while, but I've been hesitant because I wasn't sure how readable she would be. It sounds like she's a very readable, immersive author. Perfect! Thank you so much for this informative review.

  6. I stuck this book in my wishlist when it came out. I like historical fiction, so I think I should give it a try.


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