Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Julie's Review: Madame Tussaud

Summary: The world knows Madame Tussaud as a wax artist extraordinaire, but who was this woman who became one of the most famous sculptresses of all time? In these pages, her tumultuous and amazing story comes to life as only Michelle Moran can tell it. The year is 1788, and a revolution is about to begin. 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 Tussaud brings us into the world of an incredible heroine whose talent for wax modeling saved her life and preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom.

Review: You know what I love about historical fiction novels, I learn something. I don't know much about the French Revolution but like all revolutions it was bloody and shameful. Michelle Moran does an exquisite job of describing this period of time through the eyes of Marie Grosholtz, aka Madame Tussaud.

Madame Tussaud has everything a fan of historical fiction could want: intrigue, betrayal, romance, important historical events and a great heroine. We meet a young Marie when she is trying to get the Salon de Cire off the ground and make it a place for a Parisians and tourists to visit. Her luck is about to turn the salon around when the King and Queen visit and make it famous. She is soon asked to tutor the King's sister Madame Elizabeth in the art of wax.

With this tutoring, Marie and her family find themselves in a precarious situation. As the revolution begins the family needs to straddle the fence to ensure their safety. Essentially, they play both sides. In a time of great uncertainty, I felt this was the only way they could survive.

As with all her novels, Ms. Moran does an excellent job of taking you to that period in time with her descriptions and extensive research of her subject. At times I felt that I was on the Boulevard or in the Salon assisting Marie with her creations.

Marie is a woman beyond the time period of history she is born into. She is fiercely independent and extremely driven. Although she is extremely traditional in that her first love and duty is to her family and that can be a wonderful trait or a detriment. I admired Marie for her sense of duty, business sense, her sense of self and her devotion to her country. She had an uncanny knack for giving the people what they wanted, while trying to keep her family safe. In the end, she never compromises who she is and what she believes.

There were poignant moments in the book where I teared up and felt like these events were happening to someone close to me. For an author to bring up such feelings about a historical figure is a feat and Michelle Moran has done it, yet again!

Madame Tussaud is filled with the people that we have studied in history books, even if it's briefly. Ms. Moran brings them to life with a fervor that on she can and they become real people, not just instruments of a revolution.

I have never been to one of Madame Tussaud's museums but I can tell you one thing, if I'm ever near one on a vacation I will make it a point to go.

If you have never read Michelle Moran, then Madame Tussaud is a great place to start. Her other books Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen are two of my all time favorites, but they deal with a different time and place. Which ever book you read of hers, you won't be disappointed.

Final Take: 4.75/5



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