Michelle Moran – Madame Tussaud
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.
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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