Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Crown)
Why I decided to read: I was offered a copy for review
How I acquired my copy: review copy from the author, February 2011
Michelle Moran has been known for her novels set in the ancient world—Egypt and Rome. Madame Tussaud is a departure for her, delving as it does into the world of late-18th century France and the Revolution. Madame Tussaud, nee Marie Grosholtz, made a name for herself as an artist, making wax models of famous contemporaries—becoming involved, as she does so, with some of the major political and cultural figures of her day. It was an era in which everything changed almost overnight (right down to the clothes that people wore), and Madame Tussaud was right there to see it all happen. You almost fell, while reading this book, that you’re there yourself.
This is an absolutely stunning novel that had me captivated from beginning to end. Marie wasn’t exactly a beauty, and she wasn’t wealthy or of the nobility. But her perception of the events going on is astute. Michelle Moran describes the almost hysterical mood of the Revolution and Reign of Terror to perfection, keeping me on the edge of my seat. At first, I was a little bit unsure of how the present-tense narration would work; but I ignored it after a few pages and just let myself enjoy the story and characters.
Due to her work in wax, Marie was able to meet some of the major players of her day; she was even a tutor to the king’s sister. Marie straddled to worlds: she wasn’t of the nobility, but she became semi-familiar to the royal family. On the other hand, her family’s Salon became a gathering place for major revolutionary figures of the day. It was interesting to see where Marie’s loyalties lay—and to watch the romance grow between herself and Henri. Marie in the novel isn’t depicted as having a modern mindset, but she deals with a dilemma that still plagues women today: work versus personal happiness in love. I still wonder why she made the decision to marry Francoise Tussaud—an error in judgment, as it turns out. This is a novel definitely worth the read.