Friday, January 27, 2012

Book Review 2011 #2 - Michelle Moran's Madame Tussaud

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran
Published by: Crown
ARC Provided by the author
Publication Date: February 15th, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
Marie Grosholtz has one goal in life, and that's to make the Salon de Cire, that she runs with her uncle Philippe Curtis, as successful as possible. If she or Philippe were allowed entrance into the Academie Francaise, well, that would be the pinnacle of success. Modeling the famous personages of the day in wax, Marie prides herself on capturing not only the person she is immortalizing, but the fashions and sensibilities of the day, no matter how fast they change. But Marie feels that in order to be a true success she needs the Royal stamp of approval. She wants the King and Queen to look upon their likenesses and smile. Plus it couldn't hurt ticket sales any. After appealing to the Queen's dressmaker, Rose Bertin, for over a year on behalf of the Salon, Marie finally realizes that perhaps she should be appealing to Rose's vanity. Once Marie agrees to immortalize Rose in wax, suddenly the Salon is in a flurry of activity as they prepare for the royal viewing. But what goes on in the public rooms is nothing to what goes on in the weekly salons held behind closed doors. Revolutionaries, inventors and thinkers, from the Charles brothers, Jacques and the lovestruck Henri, from Marat to Camille, Robespierre to the King's own cousin, the Duc d'Orleans, talk about the day when the monarchy will fall. It's not that Marie and her family really support the revolutionary cause, but their job demands that they are abreast of the voice of the people. Plus, if they didn't meet in their salon, they'd only meet somewhere else... so what can it hurt?

After the Royal visit Marie's life and the success of the Salon de Cire change forever. Marie is invited to sculpt luminaries and lunatics such as Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Sade. But more importantly, she is invited to Versailles to work with Louis the Sixteenth's sister, the Princess Elisabeth. She is to help Elisabeth learn to sculpt the human form so that she may create religious effigies. Despite working with a devoutly religious woman who rarely goes out, Marie forms a friendship with the Princess and does occasionally get a glimpse of court life, the life her brothers guard as part of the King's own men. But in Paris people are starving and the public opinion against the King and Marie Antoinette is shifting. The time may come when Marie Grosholtz will have to remove their likenesses from the Salon. Much hope is given to the meeting of The Estates-General, wherein the people will make their voices heard, no matter if the King and the Church object. But whatever concessions the monarchy is willing to make, there seems to be nothing that will quench the thirst for revenge. Soon the people are out of hand and the Bastille falls. Paris changes by the minute and hour, not by the day. Rallies in cafes and scathing articles in newspapers fuel the terror that has begun. Straddling the world of the court she has come to know and the Salon which captures the pulse of a nation, Marie is the ultimate politician just hoping for her own survival. Only soon a rosette in the tricolours will not be enough. Soon she must prepare the death masks of those recently beheaded. Soon she must decide if she can continue in this life she has had thrust upon her, or if there is some point that will make her say no. Some point which will put her head in the guillotine.

Madame Tussaud, Marie Grosholtz that was, is an institution to this day. With wax museums the world over, she has become a lucrative tourist attraction. But what became a venue for people to goggle over celebrities was once a venue for political change. To the people in revolutionary France, the wax works that Marie sculpted were the closest they'd ever get to the King or Queen. While Marie would insist that she was just giving the people what they wanted, her brother was more accurate in stating that what she did, what she showed, mattered. Art is a medium for change. She captured these luminaries and distilled them down into a caught moment. She moved with the times, she transformed and updated. She was able to show the world as it was, ever changing and not staying still in the days of unrest. Whether or not she fueled the revolution, she documented it. She was able to ride the wave of public opinion and stay in touch with both worlds, the rarefied nobility and the common man. Her art and connections let her be more, see more.

The only real problem I had with this novel is that it's too short. The ending sneaks up on you and it's over. I would willingly have read a Margaret George length opus of this quality from Moran. After experiencing the first year of the revolution in detail, to then only be given glimpses of the succeeding years is almost painful. I fell for Marie, this fiercely talented pragmatic artist without the posturing. She thought of art as a business and how things could be changed and improved, versus long diatribes about the proper use of Azure Blue. The one thing I have detested about novels, historic or otherwise, is that they never capture what an artist really is. They become caricatures. People who have their heads in the clouds, have no money concerns and are always somewhat tortured. As an artist myself, I want to find these writers and harm them. Not Michelle! She perfectly captured the analytical mind of an artist that I myself hope I am. She thought about the good of her art, her salon. She had set goals and she had an astounding memory for faces and fashion. And what a world of people she lived in. Michelle brings to life everyone from Marat to Marie Antoinette in a human and compassionate light. What were once figures in history become living breathing people you care about. If the goal of a historical novel is to make history alive again, then Michelle has succeeded immensely.


Good review! Sounds like something I would definitely enjoy reading.

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