Review: Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran
Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: February 15th, 2011
Source: ARC - Read It Forward program
Needless to say, without the wonderful Read It Forward program offered by Crown Publishing, this insightful and engaging novel might have slipped past my radar. Before finishing this book I don't think I would have classified Madame Tussaud as an historical figure I wanted to research further, but now she's at the top of my list!
After moving from Switzerland with her mother at a young age, Marie Grosholtz quickly begins learning the art of wax modeling from Philippe Curtis, a man she affectionately refers to as uncle. Working tirelessly day and night, Marie's main focus in life is to keep her family's wax museum, the Salon de Cire, relevant and up-to-date with the latest news in France. Following a visit from the Royal family, Marie receives a request to move to Versailles and teach sculpting to King Louis XVI's younger sister Elisabeth. During Marie's time at home and on the palace grounds she meets some of the most influential figures in the French Revolution. As the Reign of Terror quickly decends on the citizens of France, Marie and her family must straddle the line between the revolutionaries and the aristocracy in order to survive.
There really wasn't much I didn't love about this book! Madame Tussaud starts out with a slow and engaging introduction filled with illustrative descriptions of the sites and sounds of Paris in the late 1700s. Throughout the novel we are introduced to all the major players in the French revolution, including Robespierre, Marquis de La Fayette, Duc d'Orleans, and the Marquis de Sade. Moran masterfully conveys the heavy atmosphere that decends on a city rife with unrest. The visuals she provides in the first part of the book really help prepare the reader to better understand and feel like a part of this woman's life.
I enjoyed reading about such a strong, independent woman who was definitely ahead of her time. Many people criticize her for failing to pursue a romantic relationship with Henri early on, but Marie maintained a practical outlook during her life, which I think kept her focused on her work and family. Moran succeeds in keeping the story from devolving into the typical historical romance novel by choosing not to play up their mutual affinity for one another and keeping the focus on the revolution occuring outside their doors.
One thing I do applaud Moran on is her open acknowledgement that her work does take some liberties with the facts, as stated in a "Historical Note" at the conclusion of the story. It must be remembered that this is historical FICTION and, while sticking to the major events in history, should never overwhelm the reader with page after page of facts. I enjoyed Madame Tussaud precisely because I was learning about a difficult period in time without feeling like I was reading a textbook. Readable narratives such as Moran's defintely pique my interest in the subject and uncover an urge to complete further research.
There were only a few aspects of the story that I felt could have been improved upon, but these are very slight. At times I felt Moran could have done a better job at showing some of the action instead of using a minor character to mearly report the news to Marie. Also, the ending, while thrilling and fast-paced, felt a little hurried. I would have loved a little more focus on Marie's new life in London with Henri and her children.
Overall, there is very little to complain about with Madame Tussaud. Moran penned a definite winner and I am happy to call this book one of the better new releases this year.