Sunday, May 8, 2011

Madame Tussaud - Michelle Moran

Madame Tussaud
Michelle Moran
Crown Publishing
Copyright: February 15, 2011

The product description:
The world knows Madame Tussaud as a wax artist extraordinaire . . . but who was this woman who became one of the most famous sculptresses of all time? In these pages, her tumultuous and amazing story comes to life as only Michelle Moran can tell it. The year is 1788, and a revolution is about to begin.

Smart and ambitious, Marie Tussaud has learned the secrets of wax sculpting by working alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire. From her popular model of the American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson, to her tableau of the royal family at dinner, Marie’s museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip, and even politics. Her customers hail from every walk of life, yet her greatest dream is to attract the attention of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI; their stamp of approval on her work could catapult her and her museum to the fame and riches she desires. After months of anticipation, Marie learns that the royal family is willing to come and see their likenesses. When they finally arrive, the king’s sister is so impressed that she requests Marie’s presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting. It is a request Marie knows she cannot refuse—even if it means time away
from her beloved Salon and her increasingly dear friend, Henri Charles.

As Marie gets to know her pupil, Princesse √Člisabeth, she also becomes acquainted with the king and queen, who introduce her to the glamorous life at court. From lavish parties with more delicacies than she’s ever seen to rooms filled with candles lit only once before being discarded, Marie steps into a world entirely different from her home on the Boulevard du Temple, where people are selling their teeth in order to put food on the table.

Meanwhile, many resent the vast separation between rich and poor. In salons and caf√©s across Paris, people like Camille Desmoulins, Jean-Paul Marat, and Maximilien Robespierre are lashing out against the monarchy. Soon, there’s whispered talk of revolution. . . . Will Marie be able to hold on to both the love of her life and her friendship with the royal family as France approaches civil war? And more important, will she be able to fulfill the demands of powerful revolutionaries who ask that she make the death masks of beheaded aristocrats, some of whom she knows?

Spanning five years, from the 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. 
Madame Tussaud is something of a departure from Michelle Moran's previous books: Cleopatra's Daughter, The Heretic Queen and Nefertiti, all of which are set in ancient Egypt and Rome. This one's set just before and during the French Revolution.

When I first heard about the book, last year, I decided I was going to read it just based on the fact that I'd really like Michelle Moran's previous books. I was expecting a carefully researched and written book peopled with vivid and interesting characters. That's exactly what I got. Lafayette, Marie, her family, Camille and so many others, not to mention the Royal Family.

Now, I will admit that my knowledge of the French Revolution is spotty at best, dating from when I was back in grade school, but the perceptions I have of what I learned back then portray it as a good thing and the leaders - especially Lafayette as being heroes, but that's not the impression I particularly got from reading the book. Instead, things are very ambiguous as they're seen from Marie's point of view - a person who had friends on both sides of the divide. Were the Royal Family and Marie Antoinette really as bad as they're made out to be? In a sense, especially as the book progressed, I found it to be rather hard to read - especially for the part of the book that describes the Reign of Terror.

I'm thinking that maybe I should do some more reading on the subject sooner or later - and for me, that feeling is a big plus when I'm reading historical fiction. Another plus in my mind is the author's note of sorts that Michelle Moran has at the end of the book, summing up the real lives such as we know them for the main characters of the book, and for what was going on at the time - what was condensed and changed from fact, especially. To me, having both those there are big bonuses. I'm also trying to remember - my copy of Janson's Art History and the other art books I have are inaccessible at the moment, if there is a painting of Camille just after his death. I'm inclined to think so, but not a hundred percent certain. It's one of the scenes in the book, where that's being talked about. I just can't quite picture it.

Overall, I really liked reading Madame Tussaud, and I recommend it, even if it's not your usual forte in historical fiction reading. It's definitely worth a try, as are Michelle Moran's other books.

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