I can’t believe how long it has been since I did a book review – I’ve missed them! Although I’ve still been reading, it has been at a slower pace than I’m used to due to all that’s going on with the move and now, the house. Fortunately, our home inspection went really well this weekend. The inspector said it was one of the cleanest reports he’s written all year, and if all goes according to plan we should have a little less crazy few weeks ahead. For me, that means more reading and blogging!
Only joking about that last part. I’m still lost in the world of Marie Antoinette after reading the novel Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund. In a word, it was phenomenal.
This one was a birthday present from Cara. I couldn’t wait to dive in – I actually visited Paris during my sophomore year of college and took a day trip out to Versailles. Although it was bitterly cold and rainy that day, I still remember feeling awestruck by its grandeur. Whenever I’m in a place with a lot of history, I try to imagine what it was like when its famous inhabitants roamed the halls. The chateau was beautiful and the gardens really did seem to go on forever.
This book brought me back to those memories from page one. The descriptive imagery and historical attention to detail made me feel as though I were truly living vicariously through Marie Antoinette. And although most of us know how her story ends, the perspective that Sena Jeter Naslund provides leading up to the revolution will make her fate all the more heartbreaking. Throughout history, Marie Antoinette has had a pretty negative reputation. This book goes beyond the gossip to show her life from an alternative perspective – if you’re a historical fiction fan, you’ll love it.
Essentially this book chronicles Marie Antoinette’s life from the day she gave up her Austrian heritage to become French royalty until the day when…well, you know (or perhaps you don’t if you never took European history, in which case I won’t spoil the surprise). Can you imagine if your mother sent you off to a foreign land at the age of 14 to marry a boy you’ve never met in order to preserve the peace of an entire continent? Yeah. Neither can I. Not only that, but Marie is forced to grow up in the public spotlight, especially when the future King of France is thrown into the role early after the unexpected demise of his grandfather. The book goes on to show her and Louis XVI’s struggles to consummate the marriage and start a family. It also describes in lavish detail the social life Marie led, from elegant parties and operas to grandiose homes and properties built in her name.
Of course, underneath the surface of the royal family’s arguably excessive spending is a failing French economy, poor harvests and a substantial war debt taken on from helping a certain group of rebellious English colonists break away from the crown (ahem). As the years pass, Marie’s favor among the people deteriorates into the kind of hatred worthy of its own revolution. And so it goes.
What I was most impressed with was the obvious amount of research the author put into her work. Certainly it can be argued that this novel portrays Marie Antoinette in a very positive light, especially when compared to how she is traditionally viewed in history. But whether you fully believe in Sena Jeter Naslund’s account of her life or not, the research speaks for itself. There are real letters sent from Marie to her mother, the queen of Austria, as well as correspondence between her and her intimate circle of friends. And of course, the actual historical events that are permanently transcribed in our textbooks. The writing is elegant and factual without being too detailed or boring (if my European history text read this way, I certainly would have retained more information). But this is a novel, after all, and an exciting page turner at that. I definitely recommend it!
Have you read Abundance? How about any other Marie Antoinette stories or films?