Madame Tussaud, by Michelle Moran, has been on my TBR shelf for a couple of years now, but putting it on my TBR Pile Challenge list meant that I actually got around to reading it this year. Once again, why did I wait to read this?
I have read one other of Moran's books (Cleopatra's Daughter), which I found to be a solid 3 stars, but I absolutely loved Madame Tussaud. It was engaging, informative, believable. It is a perfect example of why I love historical fiction. I have learned about the French Revolution in various ways over the years--in school, through non-fiction books, through movies, and a bit through fiction (A Tale of Two Cities, most recently), but I really felt that this book enabled me to understand the issues that drove the Parisians first to protest and then to revolt and then to recoil.
I loved the fact that this is a biographical novel--Marie Grosholtz, aka Madame Tussaud, was a real person with a well-documented life--who truly did straddle the royal world (serving as tutor to the king's sister who wanted to develop her sculpting skills) and the revolutionary world (her mother and mentor, who were lovers, held weekly salons attended by Robespierre, Marat, Layfayette, Duc d'Orleans, et al).
As a sculptress who reported the news of the day via her and her "uncle's" exhibit (which was the precursor to her Madame Tussaud museum that evolved later), she was eye-witness to key events during the Revolution and met and came to know so many of the major and minor players. While her sympathies seemed to lean to the Royalists, she also recognized the sheer waste of the Royal Court and knew first-hand the struggles and hardships of the common people.
I loved the way Moran depicted Marie--she was ambitious, talented and intelligent; she was loyal to family, loving and open to being loved; she was conflicted, human, and extremely likable. She was adept at self-preservation but had a line that she wouldn't cross and didn't in the end. I felt that Moran also did an excellent job of providing realistic dialogue for all of her characters, something that is not easy to do for historical figures.
I found so many interesting facets to this book--not just the politics and events of the Revolution, but the mechanics of creating wax sculptures, the idea that the exhibits functioned as dispensers of news so that people could see events instead of just hearing about them, the propaganda associated with creating death masks of perceived traitors, the idea of creating models of loved ones at their death.
I think the book is brilliantly structured. Marie is literally pulled between the court (her relationship with the Royal family directly and through her brothers, who are members of the king's Swiss Guards) and her home and workshop on the Boulevard du Temple, and the people who live and work there.
|Marie Grosholtz, aka Madame Tussaud|