Monday, 14 May 2012

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

Marie works with her uncle creating wax models that reflect politics and society in eighteenth century France.  In the Parisian salons she meets men like Robespierre, Marat and Desmoulins, men who are intent on seizing power from the monarchy.  As the Revolution begins, Marie and her family try to tread a fine line between the revolutionists and the monarchists.  But events escalate out of control and Marie finds herself in increasing danger.

Before I start this review properly, I have to admit that I knew next to nothing about the French Revolution before reading this book.  I knew the French rose up and executed King Louis and Marie Antoinette using the newly invented guillotene but I couldn't have told you what the Third Estate was or how the population was encouraged to revolt.  Madame Tussaud was a great way to fill in the gaps in my knowledge as Marie was acquainted with all of the important players on both sides.  As learning about new times and places is one of the reasons I enjoy historical fiction, I loved this aspect of the book and could tell that Moran had really done her research.

The story was compelling too.  I found the pace of the novel a bit slow at the beginning but once the Revoltuion got underway things moved at a whirlwind pace.  Marie was an easy main character to identify with, she was hard working and devoted to her family but determined to find her own path in life.  Her relationship with Henri worked to balance the grimness of other aspects of the story.

At times, I found Madame Tussaud to be very profound.  Moran doesn't shy away from the horrors Robespierre inflicted after executing the King and she has a lot to say about human nature.  At one point Marie compares the revolutionists to animals who, having destroyed their enemies, had nothing left to do but destroy themselves.  I found it interesting to reflect on society and how easily all of our civilised veneer can be swept away or destroyed.  I liked that Moran refrained from making any judgement on the events through Marie, she let actions speak for themselves.  I also enjoyed the afterword that let me know what happened to all the famous characters in the novel.

That's not to say the book wasn't without flaws.  I thought Henri was just too perfect to be real and therefore didn't buy the romance completely.  The beginning section of the book could have been edited down to make it tighter.  But all in all, Madame Tussaud is a competent, thoroughly research piece of historical fiction that's very enjoyable to read.  Michelle Moran is going on my list of 'historical fiction authors to trust'.

Source: Library
First Published: February 2011
Score: 4 out of 5

16 comments:

  1. I always find it amazing how we can learn so much more about history from historical fiction than from history classes. I have read several books set during the French Revolution now (isn't the revolution absolutely fascinating?) and it is very interesting to compare them, for the authors' points of view differ greatly.
    Oh, and I love the idea of retelling the story of such a famous historic person as Madame Tussaud!

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    1. There's nothing like well written historical fiction for learning without realising you are learning. If you like reading about the French Revolution, you should definitely try this one.

      What other books about the French Revolution would you recommend?

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  2. I enjoyed this one too, Sam, my first experience of this author. I liked the double aspect of learning about the revolution and the origins of Madame Tussaud although I would love to have learned more about how she fared in the early days in London - another novel I guess!

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    1. This was my second Moran, I've also read Cleopatra's Daughter, which I enjoyed, but not as much as this one. I agree that a sequel would be fascinating. I wanted to find out how she settled in to London and what her relationship was like with her husband.

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  3. I've been curious about this author for quite some time. It's nice to read a review that's more measured and not completely glowing! I'm still intrigued by this author, and I don't know much about this time period either.

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    1. Michelle Moran is a great author if you like traditional historical fiction that's well researched. I've read another of hers, Cleopatra's Daughter, which I enjoyed but not as much. Madame Tussaud was far better.

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  4. This sounds like a great read, another one to add to my list. I have also been meaning to read Mantel's French Revolution novel A Place of Greater Safety. I also agree with Lovely Treez and think a novel about her days in London would be great, I honestly know nothing about Madame Tussard except for the famous wax works of course. I do love a good historical novel.
    Thanks for the comment by the way, I think I really need to get my head in the right place. Astrophyics, wow, sounds demanding but interesting, full time work and external study is always a big ask and you find time to write a great blog!

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    1. I didn't know Mantel had a French Revolution, thanks for the recommendation. I also want to pick up Bringing Up The Bodies soon.

      Good luck with your relaxation time. I don't know if I'm crazy doing so much but I'm one of those people with a mind that needs to be kept busy or I can end up a bit despondent. Astrophysics is great, it's changing the way I think about the world.

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  5. Sam,
    When I saw your review in the book list I was nervous.. did she like it?! I feel like I mentioned that I really enjoyed this one and urged you give it a go. So glad you enjoyed it. I feel like the cover for both the UK and US didn't do the novel justice. It's just.. I don't know what it is. But the novel is quite complex and she gives the reader a great historical snapshot of what is occurring around Tussaud without really turning into a history book. Plus, I felt her character was so driven. It was interesting to see another person's character explored in addition to all those that most people are so familiar with during these events.

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    1. Beth, I'm glad you mention the cover as I don't like the US or UK covers either. I think the US one makes her look like more of a noblewoman than she was and the UK one is a bit tacky. Good books deserve great covers!
      ANd you're right, I think you commented when I posted about getting this from the library and said I should try it. Thanks for the encouragement, it was a great book :)

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  6. I have this one on my to-be-read shelf. I am looking forward to reading it!

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    1. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did Lindsey :)

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  7. I have to say, Michelle Moran is one of my favorite historical fiction writers, and this one is my favorite of hers, yes with a fantastic presentation of the French Revolution. It was pure genius to have chosen to present it through the person of Madame Tussaud. see my review - a French reader who has studied a lot the French Revolution - in my days at school in France, we would go on and on on the Revolution: http://wordsandpeace.com/2011/03/01/madame-tussaud-a-novel-of-the-french-revolution/

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  8. This sounds like a good one. What a great idea for a protagonist for a novel set in this period. I'll have to add it to my list.

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  9. I had this book checked out back when it was first released but failed to finish it before it was due back to the library, and I couldn't renew it since it was in high demand. However, your review makes me eager to pick it up again and give it the proper time to read.

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  10. I can second the recommendation for A Place of Greater Safety - I finished it a couple of weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Joanne

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