Juliet Grey – Becoming Marie Antoinette
Length: 464 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Started: 21 July 2011
Finished: 30 July 2011
Where did it come from? From Ballantine Books for review.
Why do I have it? I saw the ad in Shelf Awareness and thought it had been a while since my last book about the French Revolution.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 16 May 2011.
Being born in a
royal court does not mean you’re
ready to be Queen.
Summary: Everyone knows who Marie Antoinette was, but how many people know the story of how she became one of the pivotal figures of the French Revolution? Born an princess to the Hapsburg Empress of Austria, she was a happy, free-spirited child. When her mother began negotiations with France for her marriage to the dauphin, however, the 12-year-old Antonia had to put her childhood behind her and start proving herself worthy of being the future Queen of France – a process that involved arduous hours of fixing her teeth and hair, learning a new language and how to walk in her new clothes, and mastering the manners and pastimes of a new court. And even once that preparation was complete and the marriage was accomplished, she was still a very young girl in a foreign land, facing hostility and manipulation from all sides… with a husband, the future king, who mysteriously refused to consummate their marriage, despite its vital importance to both their countries that she bear him a son.
Review: While, in a lot of respects, this book is very solid and enjoyable historical fiction, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations of it. On the good side, it’s well-written, and Grey does an excellent job of bringing Marie Antoinette to life as a real and – if not quite relatable – certainly sympathetic narrator, instead of a mere caricature of a fancy dress and enormous hairdo. I also learned quite a bit about her childhood, much of it totally fascinating (although: man, 1760s orthodontia, no thank you!), and really got a good feel for how she fit into the Versailles court (or didn’t, as the case may be.)
My main problem was the limited time span covered by the book, and consequently how abruptly it ended. This book is the first of three planned biographical novels, and while the death of Louis XV seems like a natural break in the storyline – marking Marie’s transition from dauphine to Queen – it left a lot of plot threads unresolved, most noticeably the cause and and outcome of Marie’s continuing virginal status, which was a major theme in the back half of the book. The ending left me wanting more, not in the sense of being eager to dive into the sequel, but in the sense that I felt like a more complete story could have been packed into the preceding 400 pages. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I think fans of novels about the French Revolution – and of historical fiction more generally – will enjoy this one, as long as they bear in mind that it’s not the whole story.
Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: My mother liked to boast that her numerous daughters were “sacrifices to politics.”
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 242: “Yes to my maître d’hôtel, or chamberlain, and yes to the equerries.” – an officer of a royal or similar household, charged with the care of the horses.
- p. 321: “It dawned on me that the furious movement was not a signal to me, but to someone standing behind me, so I turned ever so slightly to regard my ladies – and there was Madame Campan, with the white linen lappets of her cap still pinned to the crown of her head.” – a small lap, flap, or loosely hanging part, especially of a garment or headdress.
- p. 331: “Madame Victoire crooked a plump finger and beckoned me to sit before her on the low upholstered tabouret.” – a low seat without back or arms, for one person; stool.
- p. 351: “A cercle was just breaking up; and the capacious chamber, with its delicate whiteboiserie molding enhancing equally creamy walls, resembled a hothouse of exotic and fragrant blooms – suffused with the scents of orange blossom and rosewater, frangipani and jasmine, lilac and lily of the valley.” – sculptured paneling, especially that of French architecture in the 18th century.
- p. 419: “At Versailles, I played lansquenet into the wee hours of the morning, fortified by orangeade; by day I immersed myself in our amateur theatricals.” – a card game.
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