Saturday, February 26, 2011
Madame Tussaud: A Novel About the French Revolution
Author: Michelle Moran
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Publication Date: February 15th, 2011
I just finished reading your new novel MADAME TUSSAUD yesterday and I sat in silence for a few moments afterwards to catch my breath. What you have accomplished with this novel is astounding, you have managed to make the ideas behind the French Revolution not only comprehensible, but you have also made it human by weaving in the story of the remarkable Madame Tussaud.
I first encountered Madame Tussaud's on my first trip to London when I was 16. It was a teen tour and we ran around every day for a month, visiting various attractions around London and outside the city. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't really pay too much attention to who Madame Tussaud was. I was more impressed by the Chamber of Horrors, and the Planetarium next door. I'm not even sure that I even knew that Madame Tussaud had been a real person. Years later, when I went back I was enthralled with the recreation of The Battle of Trafalgar. It was only then that I began to pay attention to the biographical note in the program.
Now having read your novel, I'm surprised that I never paid more attention to this amazing story. Marie Grosholtz as she was known then, is a smart and ambitious woman who has learned the art of wax sculpting alongside her 'uncle' from childhood. An unusual skill at the time, but one that Marie knows will keep her from ever starving or having to rely on a man to take care of her. Although Marie lived over 200 years ago, readers will certainly related to her struggles to combine a career with the idea of marriage and children. She's forced to make choices in order to survive that most people will hopefully never have to deal with. Because of the popularity of the museum, Marie is able to not only meet most of the important figures of the day including Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette but she's also able to persuade Marie Antoinette's dressmaker to deliver a letter to the Royal Family inviting them to the museum. Their visit not only increases the popularity of the museum but presents Marie with an amazing opportunity, to teach the King's sister Madame Elisabeth. Marie knows that she cannot refuse the request, although she is warned by the liberals who frequent her uncle's salon.
Through Marie's eyes, the reader receives a glimpse of Versaille that is different from the usual impressions. Marie can't help not only to be impressed by Madame Elisabeth but also the Queen. Thank you Michelle for giving the reader a glimpse of Marie Antoinette that is warm, loving, and human without softening her flaws. What is remarkable about this novel is how you are able to seemlessly weave real-life events within the narrative without stopping the flow of the novel. I never felt as if I were getting a history lesson. The novel is gripping and filled with horrifying incidents. I don't think I will ever be able to look at the death masks in the museum again without remembering the scenes in the novel where Marie was forced to make the masks, or be in danger of losing her own life.
The book spans the most dramatic years of Marie's life, from 1789 to 1794. There is so much attention to detail from what they wore to how they ate and slept but all of it is blended skillfully as you bring historical personages that have written about to death to life. I felt as if I knew Robespierre, the Duc D'Orleans, and Camille Desmoulins because of how Marie felt about them. This novel was engrossing from page 1 until the end, as I found myself biting my nails in suspense wondering if Marie was going to make it out of the Revolution alive. Of course, we all know that she did, but there were moments when I really wondered.
I feel privileged that I was able to read this novel and to review it. I walked away from this novel with a new appreciation and understanding of this remarkable woman, her achievements and the high price she had to pay for her success.