Great White Snark: "There are a lot of people at Versailles today."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"There are a lot of people at Versailles today."

I just finished the book Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Gray, and all I have to say is: WOW.

Okay, so that's not all I have to say.

This book was so delicious. It was magnificently detailed (and I have a love for ridiculous little details like iced tea cakes and satin-ribboned hat rims), had quick pacing, meticulous attention to character development and had that "I don't want to stop reading" quality.

The book starts in Marie Antoinette's childhood in Austria (yeah, a lot of people think she was like, BORN FRENCH. False.) and charts her progress from awkward, uneducated archduchess to poised, coiffured dauphine of France. Gray really gets into the characters' heads, too, which is something I love. I've always felt sympathetic towards Marie Antoinette. She was too young to handle what she got, and she was absolutely in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gray shows this beautifully. You can't help but feel sympathy towards a girl of fourteen who's whisked away from her home, placed in a foreign castle, and expected to be pregnant within a week.

Gray also characterizes other major players, too, like Maria Theresa of Austria, King Louis XV, Madame du Barry, and Louis Auguste. In addition, she fleshes out the minor characters that add depth to the story (the governesses, aunts, hairdressers, dancing instructors, etc.); it gives that feeling of overwhelming crowdiness found in Versailles. She mixes anecdote with fact seamlessly (ex: the story of when Mozart proposed to Marie Antoinette makes an appearance), and gives a highly realistic and factorial picture of Versailles, which is impressive considering it IS a work of fiction.

It reads like fiction, and moves along quickly. Within 300 pages we go from 7 year old Marie Antoinette pranking her governess to the eve of her coronation as queen of France.

It was just SO GOOD. If you love Marie Antoinette, or Versailles, or the 18th century, you absolutely have to read this book. If you're at all disiullusioned with the Hollywood portrayal of Marie Antoinette as a haughty shopaholic or Versailles as a glittering beacon of decadence and debauchery, you should read this book. A lot of historical fiction tends to get really dry and too factual. Either that, or it reaches the other end of the spectrum (wherein Marie Antoinette was actually a lesbian dragon-slayer or something). This is the perfect balance. I also appreciated that the author included a) a works cited list even though it IS fiction, and b) a note at the end detailing where she took creative license and what was actual historical fact.

I am so excited that this is the first part of a trilogy, because you can bet your biscuits I'll be reading the next two!

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