Friday, 2 September 2011

Madame Tussaud

Author: Michelle Moran

Genre: Historical Fiction

Type: Hardcover

Pages: 464

Published: February 15, 2011

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."

Synopsis: Marie Grosholtz, who would later become Madame Tussaud, narrates this tale set during the French Revolution. This book focuses on Marie and her family between the years 1788 and 1794 while they lived in Paris and owned their wax museum, the Salon de Cire. It's in the museum, where Marie learns the detailed art of wax sculpting under the tutelage of her uncle.

Marie's skill is soon brought to the attention of the Royal family and she is hired to tutor the king's sister, Madame Elizabeth, in the art of wax modelling. Always conscious of improving her business, Marie believes this connection with the Royal family will be good for the Salon de Cire. It's through this tutoring that Marie gains access to Versailles and the decadent lifestyle of the rich but little does she know that her association with the Royal family will put her family in danger as the Reign of Terror takes over Paris.

Meanwhile, Marie's uncle offers their home as a meeting place for Robespierre, Marat and other revolutionaries who are determined to oust the royals and make a society based on equality. Soon, Marie and her family, who consider themselves 'survivialists', quickly learn how to balance between the powerful forces of the monarchy and the new regime trying to overthrow the monarchy. It's a constant struggle knowing which group to support in order to ensure their family's livelihood and safety.

Filled with political intrigue, violent images and vivid descriptions of 18th century Paris, Moran takes the reader back to a time where control of the French government kept shifting between various powerful groups, where people were murdered if they were thought to be supporting the wrong side.

My Thoughts:
Let me start off by saying that up until I read this book I didn't know much (OK, anything really) about the French Revolution. I had, of course, heard of Queen Marie Antoinette but other than remembering her famous line "Let them eat cake" (which she never said in this book), her sad fate, as well as being portrayed by Kirsten Dunst on film I didn't know much about that era. Sad but true.

When I saw that Michelle Moran had written a book about the French Revolution I knew I had to pick it up. Moran is one of those authors who I trust will write an amazing historical fiction read that will put me right in the heart of a certain era, whether it's 18th century France or ancient Egypt. She's an amazing talent that incorporates history with a riveting story.

I enjoyed the fact that Moran included many historical figures into her story including Rose Bertin (Marie Antoinette's dressmaker), the horrific and truly twisted Marquis de Sade as well as Jean-Paul Marat and Maximilien Robespierre who were prominent in spurring on the Revolution. I did know that Madame Tussaud was a real person (and not just a figurehead of the famed wax museum in London) but I had no idea she had such a prominent role in the Revolution. You learn something new everyday!

Marie Grosholtz (aka Mme Tussaud) was such a breath of fresh air compared to the other women of the time. She was independent, learned, skilled and not afraid to be without a husband. Even though Marie is considered working class Moran makes it apparent how much more independence and freedom Marie has compared to the elite such as Queen Marie Antoinette. The Queen was so sheltered and pampered that she didn't even know how to dress herself. She wasn't allowed to do anything for herself, including picking up her own tea cup. With all of their money and prestige the Queen was much more sheltered and had less choice than Marie!

Moran also clearly shows the vast differences between the poor and the elite. The extent of the extreme indulgence and waste at Versailles is astounding!! The fact that the Queen only wore these intricate, expensive dresses and shoes once then they were thrown away was nauseating ... especially when you see the poverty in which the commoners lived. When you compare the over the top extravagance that was used on a daily basis with the Royals and compare it with the fact that the masses were literally starving from a lack of flour and other foods you can see why there was an uprising.

One theme that was portrayed throughout the book was the terror and insecurity of the common and rich. It was a time when people were killed based merely on rumours and speculation. A time when no one was safe from anarchy of the massive mobs who destroyed anyone, including priests, women and children, who they thought didn't follow them blindly. We see how the mob mentality was out of control and was brutally ruthless when it handed down sentences to those who they believed weren't on the side of the Revolution. Many times Moran's descriptions of the brutal and vicious behaviour of the Revolutionaries was a little too much for me and my tender stomach. Not to mention some of the things Marie was demanded to do with her skills as a wax modeller (I won't give it away here but it ain't pretty).

One thing that I did find lacking was the romance between Marie and Henri. It was a cute relationship but was lacking passion. For such a true love I needed to see some kind of spark between them. Their love seemed very innocent and pretty much one sided. Marie didn't show nearly enough interest in poor Henri for me to believe their love was real. It was that lack of spark that made me feel excited when Marie finally met Mr Tussaud! The funny is that it wasn't until almost the end of the book (when she meets Mr Tussaud) that I realize that Marie isn't Madame Tussaud yet! Oh yaaa, I guess she does have to marry Francois Tussaud at some point! Duh!

The first 150 pages or so has a very slow pace as Moran sets up the situation and story. Don't give up! Once the stage is set the story takes off and you're immersed in the Revolution. It's a fascinating era and I loved learning more about Marie Antoinette, King Louis XVI and their children. Not to mention learning that Josephine Boneparte (who went by the name Rose at that time) also had a role in the Revolution too. Makes me want to re-read the "Josephine B" series by Sandra Gulland!

I also thought it was an interesting twist to learn about the French Revolution from the eyes of a commoner and not the Royal family (as other authors have done in the past). Usually movies and books focus on Marie Antoinette but it was refreshing to see how the young Queen was viewed (and constantly criticized) by the commoners and the high society alike. Let's just say the Queen could never catch a break and was never able to make everyone happy at any one time. I actually felt sorry for her.

Although politics and history was a huge part of this book, it also focused on Marie's love of her craft as well as what it meant to be an independent woman in the 1700's. We see how much Marie gives up (marriage, children, love) all for her love of wax modelling. Marie is portrayed as a resilient spirit and a talented woman who had to endure truly horrific conditions and gruesome scenes in order to use her talent to stay alive.

Moran is a truly skilled historical fiction writer and is one of my favourite go-to authors. She writes her books with vivid detail that helps bring the reader into that time period. If you haven't picked up one of her three previous books I highly recommend them!!! I adored "Nefertiti", "The Heretic Queen" and "Cleopatra's Daughter". While I didn't love this book as much as her other three books but I did enjoy it and loved learning more about an era in time that I knew nothing about.

I recommend this book.

My Rating: 4/5 stars


My Cottage Charm said...

Hey there! :) Did you read my blog in your reader...if so, that's why you couldn't watch my vlog. (if not, I have no idea what the deal is) Oh well, you just missed my KY accent..that's all!) lol
Have a great day girlie!

TheBookGirl said...

I enjoyed this one too. I had never read Moran before, and after reading this one, I want to read more by her.
The only thing that put me off a bit was the extensive descriptions of the macabre work Marie had to do during the reign of terror but that was a minor quibble for me.

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

BookGirl -- I do agree that the vivid and graphic descriptions of the brutality was a bit excessive for me too.

I highly recommend Moran's other books! Start with Nefertiti!

Jen at The Three Little Piglets said...

That looks like a good one! I love a good historical fiction that can suck you in and make you feel part of it while teaching you a little something along the way. I'll have to add this to my already out of control "to read" list...

Barefeet In The Kitchen said...

I haven't read this one, but I have read some in that time period. The brutality written throughout many historical novels is way over the top for me as well.

On a different note, Secret Daughter is now waiting for me at the library! Can't wait to pick it up on Tuesday.

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

Jen -- Michelle Moran is definitely an author who can suck you into a certain historical era! :)

Mary -- the brutality shown in this book was pretty ruthless and vivid. I felt it was in line with the images of the movie Braveheart. Ya, pretty brutal. :s I can see why Moran included them to show just how out of control things were but at the same time my stomach was a little queasy.

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