Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Quercus, 2011

Marie Grosholtz (later to be Mme Tussaud)is a determined young businesswoman, eager to see her family's waxwork museum  succeed and keep them safe and secure in a city whose people are suffering from poverty and hunger.
Her gift for modelling faces in wax brings her to Versailles, where she will teach the king's sister, Madame Elizabeth, her skill. But the coming revolution will place Marie, her family and all of Paris in grave danger.
As the monarchy is overthrown and the horror of the guillotine becomes a fixture in French life, Marie is expected to show her patriotism by making death masks from the severed heads of every key figure killed as the Reign of Terror begins and France enters its darkest time.

I wasn't sure how much I would like this book as many years ago I rather overdosed on Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution and tend to avoid this time period now. But once again Michelle Moran has written a very fine historical novel which kept me enthralled from page one and I really enjoyed it!

Like most people I could equate Madame Tussaud with the 18th century and waxworks but not much else and what a fascinating woman she was and what an incredible life she lived. She is the perfect choice of subject to have as a central character in a book about the French Revolution allowing the reader to see the perspectives of both sides of the conflict.
As an ordinary Parisian Marie was one of the people but her artistic talent and the family's waxwork museum brought growing renown and it was there that her uncle held a salon where the revolutionary leaders would gather - names like Lafayette, Robespierre and Marat that would later become infamous and all providing subjects for Marie's work.

Teaching Madame Elizabeth took her to Versailles where she was able to observe the aristocracy and meet the royal family but trying to maintain a loyalty to two sides isn't easy as Marie and her family would discover.

It's hard to imagine what living in the midst of such horror and the daily fear of death would be like and what Marie had to do to survive was so gruesome it's beyond imagining. She must have been a very strong woman.

The book focuses on the years between 1788 -  1795 but I did appreciate the author adding an historical note which explained the later lives of the main characters. As always , Michelle Moran provides lots of extras - maps, a timeline and a list of characters in the front and notes and glossary at the back - everything to enhance the reading experience.

Recommended to all historical fiction lovers!

Historical Fiction Challenge