What I knew about Marie Antoinette before reading this book (spoilers ahead if you don't know anything at all about her): She was married to Louis XVI, she said "Let them eat cake," she was queen during the French Revolution, and (possible spoiler here)-------------------------she was beheaded. That was it.
Three out of four isn't bad. She never actually said "Let them eat cake." According to the author, it was the wife of Louis XIV, two generations earlier, who said that. So, if you ever win tons of money on Jeopardy for knowing the correct question to this answer, I expect a small slice of the pie for enlightening you on that point. :-)
Okay, seriously, I'm avoiding writing this review, because I'm not going to do the book justice. The whole appeal is how Marie Antoinette just came to life in these pages for me. So she was a real person--it's hard to make characters seem this real, whether they're historical figures or not. In fact, it might be harder when most people just have a vision of a thoughtless queen who wasted money while her people starved. But she was so complex, I just can't even begin to spell it out. I didn't always like her, but she was always real, and I could see how some of what happened was her fault, but some things were beyond her control.
I got to the last section, during the revolution, and found myself wanting to drag my feet through it and avoid the unavoidable. But I wanted to see exactly what happened, and Sena Jeter Naslund's writing style is just beautiful to me, so I found myself actually racing through it. And she handled the ending beautifully. I should never have doubted her. The wild emotions going through Marie Antoinette, the disbelief, avoidance, everything just seemed authentic. I guess we can't really know what was going on in her mind, but I can buy this version.
I have to say that Sena Jeter Naslund is a beautiful, beautiful writer, but what really impressed me was her foreshadowing in this book. It could have been all clunky, clumsy, and obvious, but instead it was very delicate and deft, and every time I picked up on something, I found myself thinking something along the lines of, "Oh, you are good, Ms. Naslund. Hats off to your artistry."
So, I highly, highly recommend this book. I can't believe I let it languish at the bottom of my "borrowed-to-read" pile of books for so long. Don't you do the same.
Reviewed August 24, 2009
Read an excerpt.
Find author Sena Jeter Naslund on her website and her blog.
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Friday Flashback Reviews are a weekly feature here on The Introverted Reader. These are old reviews I wrote on GoodReads. Thanks to Angieville and her Retro Friday Reviews for the inspiration and encouragement!I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop's, my local independent bookstore, and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.