Sunday, March 13, 2011

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution
Author: Michelle Moran
Publisher: Crown Royal Publishing
Published: February 2011
Hardcover, 426 pages

Summary: 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 Élisabeth, 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 cafés 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 Tussaudbrings us into the world of an incredible heroine whose talent for wax modeling saved her life and preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom. (From

My Thoughts: When I first saw this book, I was a bit leery of it. I typically tend to read American historical fiction, and I hadn't read anything by this author. For a hardcover book (and the price of it), this is was a big commitment for me. I purchased it anyway, hoping for the best, and looking back on it, I am so glad that I got this book.

We are able to follow Marie (Madame Tussaud) throughout the French Revolution, from when the commoners (or Third Estate) are starting to realize that things must change, through the takeover of the monarchy, the beheadings of the king and queen, and through the Reign of Terror. The book spans over five years, with each chapter focusing on a specific time frame, whether it be one day, or a whole year. Michelle Moran does a great job of breaking the French Revolution down into manageable chunks of time, because it is quite easy to get people, places, and events confused during this era in history.

The characters are complex and ever changing, and with Marie as the central character, Moran allows us to see some of the major players of the day (Robespierre, Marat, the king and the queen) change over the course of these terrorizing five years. Marie is a strong and confident woman, focused on her business and creating an authentic salon for her customers to come and visit. We see over time how Marie changes, and realizes that business isn't everything and that somethings are more important than her wax models. The other character whom I really enjoyed seeing in the book was Robespierre. Now, you might be wondering why I would say this, since towards the end of the Revolution, he was truly a tyrant. Well, Moran did a beautiful job in showing the transformation in Robespierre, from that of a simple man who had Rousseau as the center of his world, to a man who will kill anyone for the sake of "public safety." 

There are a lot of characters in this book, so it's sometimes easy to get people confused (Moran has provided a list of characters at the front of the book, so this helps), but being able to see the Revolution from beginning to end is great. Moran provides a timeline at the beginning of the novel, so if you are ever confused about the order of events, you can take a quick peek and figure out where you are in the story. I found all of the characters to be engrossing, the time period to be amazing (and also awful), the setting beautiful ... in short, a great book, one that I think anybody would enjoy (even those of you who don't always like historical fiction). As you are reading it, it's hard to believe that some of these events actually took place and that human beings could do this to one another. Moran does an amazing job of pulling the reader into such an ugly time in history, as evidenced with this quote: "The test of our character comes not in how many tears we shed but in how we act after those tears have dried." (pg. 378)

My Rating: 4 stars

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