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Michelle Moran – Madame Tussaud

February 18, 2011

22. Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran (2011)

Length: 448 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 05 February 2011
Finished: 09 February 2011

Where did it come from? From the author for review.
Why do I have it? I really enjoyed Moran’s last book, Cleopatra’s Daughter, so of course I jumped on the chance to read her new one as well.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 31 January 2011.

Moran brings the French
Revolution to life, then
captures it in wax.

Summary: Marie Grosholtz is better known to history as Madame Tussaud, creator of waxwork figures. However, Marie was famous long before she ever opened up her museum in London; she and her uncle displayed their waxworks at their Salon de Cire in Paris. Marie’s family was friends with many of the key political players in Paris at the time – men like Robespierre, Desmoulins, Marat, and the Duc d’Orleans – but Marie’s skill with wax leads to a connection with the royal family as well, as a tutor to the King’s sister. As tension builds between the royalty and the people, and eventually erupts into the French Revolution, Marie must play both sides of the coin in such an uncertain time, and must walk an increasingly fine line between loyalty and rebellion if she and her family are going to survive the coming terror.

Review: Books like Madame Tussaud are why I read historical fiction in the first place. This was a wonderful book, with a lot of high points, but the absolute best part of it for me was its ability to place the key players and events of the French Revolution in a context that was both immediate and memorable. The French Revolution has never featured particularly heavily in my reading (although this is the third book in less than a year, so perhaps that’s changing), and what I’d retained on the subject from high school history classes boiled down to: Bastille Day, “Let them eat cake,” and the guillotine. Madame Tussaud was as good of a primer on the subject as I’m likely to find; rather than a dry cataloguing of names and dates, it brings all the main players to life as vivid, memorable, and complex people, and likewise brings the events of the time to life, showing them from a central yet relatable perspective. Marie is a woman of my own age (give or take a year or two over the course of the novel), and I found her much more sympathetic and interesting than I she would have been if she were in her teens or early twenties. She’s so perfectly positioned to narrate this sort of novel, too, that I’m almost surprised no one has ever done so before.

It’s an exciting time, too, of course, and Moran brings the period to vivid focus with style, whether in the gilded halls of Versailles, the crowded frenzy of the Place de la Révolution during an execution, or the terrors of a stinking blood-soaked graveyard. Madame Tussaud, like all good historical fiction, makes me want to revisit the places of its settings and pay a little more attention to my history, now that I have such good fuel for re-imagining the events.

There’s very little not to like about this novel. There are a few times when the timing of the story seems to bunch and shift, with elisions of days between some chapters and months between others. For the most part, though, Moran handles these well, and they caused only momentary confusion. The ending, too, feels a little abrupt, especially after the tension and horrors of the preceding chapters, and I thought the resolution could have been expanded upon a bit. On the whole, though, these are minor, minor points, and detracted from my enjoyment of the novel not at all. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Loved it. Recommended to those who enjoyed Moran’s previous books, and in general to all historical fiction fans, especially those (like me) with an interest but no solid background in the French Revolution.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Michelle Moran’s website

Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: When she walks through the door of my exhibition, everything disappears: the sound of the rain against the windows, the wax models, the customers, even the children.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 22: “Curtuis has bought me a silk fichu for the occasion.” – a woman’s shawl or scarf of some light material, worn esp in the 18th century.
  • p. 23: “His long hair has been dressed à catogan and tied with a blue ribbon that matches his coat.” – the way in which a 17th century general fastened his hair with ribbon.
  • p. 38: “If Camille becomes a deputy, it will be his responsibility to take his city’s cahiers to Versailles.” – a report of the proceedings of any body, particularly the body politic.
  • p. 212: “From his embroidered waistcoat to his striped nankeen jacket, he is the very picture of what newspaper are calling a muscadin, or scented fop.” – a hard-wearing buff-coloured cotton fabric.
  • p. 220: “The door to the workshop opens, and Madame Élisabeth appears in a long muslin gaulle belted with a sash of rose-colored gauze.” – a simple white muslin dress that fit relatively loosely over the body and had a sash around the waist.
  • p. 314: “He is facing the wicker basket that will receive his head, and his neck is held in place by a wooden lunette.” – any of various objects or spaces of crescentlike or semicircular outline or section.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2011 8:27 am

    I’m really anxious to read this – everyone raves over Moran’s work and I love anything set in France.

    • February 22, 2011 10:16 am

      bermudaonion – Sounds right up your alley, then! I hope you get a chance to pick it up!

  2. February 18, 2011 8:35 am

    Oh, this sounds interesting. I always thought Tussaud must have had such an interesting life—in one Madame Tussaud’s (I want to say New York?), they have (or at least had) a little exhibit on her life. I also love the French Revolution as a historical period.

    • February 22, 2011 10:18 am

      Omni – I’ve never been to a Madame Tussaud’s, but now I really, really want to go!

  3. February 18, 2011 9:30 am

    I’m not particularly fond of historical fiction (though I do read a handful here and there), but you’re right about The French Revolution time period–it’s just so fascinating. I haven’t read any of Moran’s books (though I have Nefertiti on my shelf), but I know she’s really loved. Hmmm…might have to make an exception!

    • February 22, 2011 10:26 am

      Trish – I also still have Nefertiti on my shelves, so I can’t comment on that one, but in the two books of Moran’s that I’ve read, what I’ve really liked is how accessible and personal she makes the history of whatever time period she’s writing about.

  4. February 18, 2011 9:45 am

    great review!

    my friend over at “Polishing Mudballs” is having a giveaway of this book (signed), ending the 22nd of February.


  5. February 18, 2011 8:28 pm

    I am not big on this time period in historical fiction, but Michelle Moran sounds like she can handle any time period she takes a fancy to. :p And Madame Tussaud certainly sounds interesting enough to be worth the read.

    • February 22, 2011 10:27 am

      Jenny – I would say both of those statements are true. :)

  6. drbethnolan permalink
    February 19, 2011 7:27 pm

    This downloaded to my kindle this week and I’m reading it as soon as I can!! I love love love Michelle’s works and I’m sure I’ll love this one, too!! Thanks for the great review! (my enthusiasm is expressed in my plethora of exclamation marks!!!!) lol -beth

    • February 22, 2011 10:28 am

      Beth – Heh, I hope you enjoy it at least seven exclamation-points-worth!

  7. February 19, 2011 8:40 pm

    I read Michelle Moran’s Nerfertiti and quite enjoyed it. Cleopatra’s Daughter sounds like one that I would like, too, as does this one you’ve reviewed!

    • February 22, 2011 10:29 am

      Sharry – I’ve had Nefertiti on my TBR pile for a while and keep meaning to get around to it, and just haven’t found the time. Oh, for an extra two hours of reading in my day!

  8. February 26, 2011 1:54 am

    It’s quite unbelievable that I haven’t yet read Moran since 1. the reviews for her books are glorious and 2. she writes about my two favorite historical periods. This is already on my wishlist, and your review makes me look so forward to it!

    • March 1, 2011 10:39 am

      Kay – I feel the same way about having Nefertiti on my shelf for so long! I know I’m going to like it; I don’t know why I haven’t picked it up yet! I hope you get a chance to pick up Moran’s books sometime soon and that you love them as much as the rest of us do!


  1. Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran | The Lost Entwife
  2. Book Review: Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran | Good Books And Good Wine
  3. Tuesday Teaser: Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran | The Lit Witch: A Book Blog
  4. Book review: Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran | The Lit Witch: A Book Blog

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