Madam Tussaud by Michelle Moran 5 of 5 stars.
When Marie Tussaud learns the exciting news that the royal family will be visiting her famed wax museum, the Salon de Cire, she never dreams that the king's sister will request her presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting. As Marie familiarizes herself with Princess Elisabeth and becomes acquainted with both Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, she witnesses the glamorous life of the court. It's a much different world than her home on the Boulevard du Temple in Paris, where bread can only be had on the black market and men sell their teeth to put food on their tables.
The year is 1788, and men like Desmoulins, Marat, and Robespierre are meeting in the salons of Paris, speaking against the monarchy; there's whispered talk of revolution.
Spanning five years from budding revolution to the Reign of Terror, Madame Tussaud brings us into the world of an incredible heroine whose talent for wax modeling saved her life and preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom. (Book blurb from press release)
Madame Tussaud is a deftly written novel that portrays all of the important players of the French Revolution through the voice of a shrewd young woman who manages to straddle the worlds of both 'Royalists' and 'Patriots' to an amazing degree. During the day she may spend time with King Louis XVI's sister, Madame Elisabeth, in her beautiful Montreuil but at home in the evening she is listening to men set on destroying the royal family at all costs.
As violence grows steadily in Paris, the woman who will become Madame Tussaud is caught between loyalty to her friends on both sides and the simple need to survive this horrid time. She will do anything to ensure the safety of herself, her family, and, of course, her Salon even if it mean taking wax models of severed heads of people whose only crime was being in the wrong place in France at the worst time possible.
When I read the synopsis for this book I was overjoyed by the fact the Michelle Moran had written another historical novel. I expected it to be much like her others, but was pleasantly surprised. Instead of being completely immersed in the intrigue and grandeur of the French court the reader is simply given the chance to dip their toes in it from time to time, focusing more on what was happening in Paris during the most bloody time in this country's history.
Moran finds a way to perfectly straddle the closed world of Louis XVI and the harsh reality of the French people. She shows the royal family in a light that will make you sympathize with them. The naive love Louis had for his people was beyond my grasp of understanding, and indeed beyond that of those who were closest to him. We receive a rather horrid view of what the consequences of a "weak" king really are.
I once read a book about Marie Antoinette that made me feel I understood her to some extent, but since then I have watched one historical documentary after the other that pretty much condemned her as the doom of France and, eventually, the French monarchy. This is the first time in a while I have seen Antoinette from a different light, and I will admit that I cried when she was executed. (This is not technically a spoiler since everyone should already know she died.) Every time she tried to economize she was attacked by her courtiers. Historians can say what they wish, but in my mind I will always see Marie Antoinette as a prisoner in a rather gilded cage.
However, the most interesting character in the book has to be the wax artist Marie Tussaud. A shrewd business woman and an amazing artist, she helps immortalize the French Revolution in her own way. The things she was willing to do to ensure her survival and that of her family continue to astound me, and that makes the ending all the more surprising.
If you are a Moran fan, a history buff, or just an avid reader looking for a good story I would suggest you read Madame Tussaud. It is the best historical fiction novel I've read since Moran's last book Cleopatra's Daughter, and the great thing about this author's works is that they never really feel historical. They feel like they directly relate to our modern lives.
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