Title: Madame Tussaud
Author: Michelle Moran
Release Date: February 15, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.75 out of 5
Marie Grosholtz is a talented artist who works at her family’s business, a wax museum that reflects current events in Paris in the late 1780s. The people are disgruntled with the royal family; it seems that the king, Louis XVI, and his queen Marie Antoinette, can do nothing right. While Marie’s home serves as a meeting place for revolutionaries such as Robespierre and Marat, she is asked to tutor the king’s sister in sculpting wax figures, and thus holds a unique place bridging the royals and revolutionaries in revolutionary France.
I’ve enjoyed all of Michelle Moran’s books (reviews of Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen, and Cleopatra’s Daughter), so when I heard she had a new book coming out, I immediately knew I wanted to read it. I love the way Moran finds fascinating stories and brings them to life, surrounding her readers with amazing characters and wonderful history. I was surprised at her choice in protagonists, though, as Madame Tussaud took Moran away from the comfort zone of Egypt she’d established for herself. Having read it, though, I’m so glad Moran made that choice because Madame Tussaud was an engrossing read from beginning to end.
Madame Tussaud is set during a difficult and complicated time in French history. The people are dissatisfied with the monarchy; the peasants see the excess of the royals and are disgusted because they can barely eat. On the other hand, every time the queen tries to economize, the nobles criticize her for her simple tastes. With their birds eye view, readers can see both sides of the argument, and sympathize with those who have nothing, while at the same time understanding that they are using Marie Antoinette as a scapegoat, as someone to blame their troubled times on. At the same time, the royals are completely clueless as to the way things actually are. The novel progresses on a downward spiral; the reader knows things are just going to get worse, yet it’s impossible to stop reading because Marie is such a well written and sympathetic character.
Marie herself was fascinating to me. I loved her depiction; she was strong and resourceful, while also being very feminine. It seemed like her family was at the center of the Revolution; Marie had a lot of sympathy for the royal family and realized how unfairly they were being treated. At the same time, though, she understood how the Salons supporting the revolutionary cause protected her family. Marie walked a tightrope, doing what needed to be done in order to spare her family, for many years. This was one of the most interesting parts of the book for me; so many novels are written extolling those who die for their principles. But in some ways, I think Marie was even more brave. She did what she had to do to ensure she and her family were protected, no matter the cost to her soul. I found these ethical and moral questions to be fascinating; they really made me think as I was reading.
Madame Tussaud has an atmosphere of dread surrounding it. If readers have any familiarity with the French Revolution at all, they know that things are going to get much, much worse. Usually, that would bother me in a novel, but in this case it didn’t. I knew events were going to unfold in a tragic way, but I couldn’t stop reading. Moran handles this incredibly complex time period with an expert’s hand. I absolutely loved the way she depicted everything, the questions events provoked, and the way she interspersed lighter moments between Marie and her family in order to keep the book from becoming too grave. I was thoroughly impressed with the historical aspect of this book and highly encourage those interested in learning about the time period to read it.
I was blown away by Madame Tussaud and am so glad I didn’t hesitate to read it. I loved how real it seemed, and how Moran was able to get into Marie’s head and deliver a three dimensional character with a distinctive personality. Historical fiction fans should definitely pick this book up; additionally, it would make a wonderful book club pick, as the ethical questions as well as the turbulent history would make great discussion topics.