Tuesday 16 August 2011

Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

Ever since I read Antonia Fraser's excellent history and biography of Marie Antoinette, I've had a weakness for books about her.  But good portrayals of Marie Antoinette in the historical fiction genre are hard to find; I was recently disappointed by Carolly Erikson's The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette, which took too many liberties with the facts and didn't convey that part of Marie Antoinette that I find so interesting - that she wasn't what the popular myth would have her be, a greedy, selfish, spendaholic that said 'Let Them Eat Cake'.

The good news is that Becoming Marie Antoinette is a well researched and interesting novel.  For me, it's a fine example of what good historical fiction should be - it sticks to the facts and just uses the fiction genre to fill in emotions and conversations.  The first part of a trilogy, it covers Marie Antoinette's life from a child of the Austrian Royal Family, through her marriage to the French Dauphin and ends when she becomes Queen of France.  Heads are all still attached to bodies so far!

One part that I found fascinating was Marie's makeover before she could marry Louis.  The French king deemed certain parts of her unacceptable so she had to go through some horrible things, including truly gruesome dental surgery without anaesthetic, before she could be shipped off to France.  For me it reinforced how royal marriages at that time had nothing to do with romance or love, they were business transactions between different countries and the feelings of the parties involved had no consequence.

I also enjoyed how Juliet Grey portrayed the relationship between Marie and the Dauphin.  He was famously awkward and the fact that he couldn't bring himself to consummate the marriage for a long time is notorious.  Grey handled this sensitively and bought the character of Louie to life so much that you really did feel sorry for him at the end.  It was also interesting to consider what an unusual situation it would be now - forced to marry someone you have never met, and then expected to have a baby as soon as possible.

This novel contains a wealth of historical detail about clothing, royal protocol, minor nobles and the court at Versailles.  I enjoyed this level of detail, but I imagine it could be off-putting for some, especially those that are just after a story.  This isn't a fast-paced book.  Anyone reading this novel should also go in with the knowledge that it is only part one of a trilogy, and therefore the ending isn't completely resolved.

Verdict: Great piece of historical fiction, can't wait for the next installment!
Source: ARC via NetGalley
Score: 4.5 out of 5


  1. I've been looking forward to your review of this book and am glad to find it has been received so positively. I will make note of it in my list of books to read!

  2. Yep, I definitely need to read some more historical novels. Haven't had any court politics for a long while and I miss it! I haven't read much about the french nobels - I seem to focus on Tudors! Sounds like it might be one to try...:)

  3. I've only heard good things about this book - I didn't know much about her until I watched the Sophia Coppola film, and have been intrigued by her since then. It's good to see another positive review, and also to know that this sticks to the facts too - I love that about good historical fiction.

  4. Bookishhobbit - Hope you enjoy it!

    Mel - I was in a bit of a Tudor rut too, so I would definitely recommend this one for something a bit different.

    Mummazappa - I love the Sophia Coppola film, which is based on the book by Antonia Fraser. Hope you enjoy the book if you do get a chance to read it.

  5. Sounds like a great book. I generally don't read historical fiction, but I do like novels that give an insight into a era done with thorough research. I can't imagine going through dental surgery without an anesthestic. I hoped she atleast got liquored up. :-)

    Great review. I see you are reading The Secret Life of Bees. I enojoyed it and the film. Looking forward to reading your review on it.

    And thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. :-)I'm now a new follower.

  6. I must get a copy of this book. It sounds like just the kind of thing that both my mom and I would like and I do appreciate all the detail you included in your review.

  7. Lena - Oh yes, she was liquored up, but it still made me wince :P I'm almost done with The Secret Life of Bees, it's hard to put down!

    Karen - Hope you enjoy the book :)

  8. I've been wanting to read more about Marie Antoinette. She is a most fascinating character. I love historical fiction though I haven't read very much of it.

  9. This is the second positive review I've seen of this book. I didn't know much about Marie Antoinette -- I learned a little while reading Michelle Moran's Madame Tussaud and would like to know more.

  10. Che - I think you would enjoy this book then :) Or, if you want something that sticks to the history alone, Antonia Fraser's biography of her is very well written.

    TheBookGirl - The writing is actually very similar to Michelle Moran's, so if you enjoyed her books you would probably enjoy this. Go for it :)

  11. I loved this one too. My review goes up later this week. I can't imagine living in such a fish bowl, but Juliet Gray does a fantastic job of portraying Marie and her feelings. I hate that we have to wait a year for the sequel!

    2 Kids and Tired Books