Library Journal - Library Journal Audio
In her fourth historical novel, following Cleopatra's Daughter (2010), Moran (www.michellemoran.com) turns from ancient Egypt to a France teetering on the abyss of revolution. The wax sculptures of Swiss artist Anna Marie Grosholtz, the woman who would later become known as Madame Tussaud (1761–1850), catch the attention of everyone from Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette. But as events rapidly spiral out of control and revolutionaries take charge of the country, her loyalties to the royal family are tested. An author's note adds further historical background on Tussaud. British actress/Audie Award winner Rosalyn Landor delivers a compelling performance of this first-person narrative, though the English-type accents she occasionally uses when Tussaud recollects conversations with certain characters seem out of place for the French setting. Recommended for fans of Moran, historical fiction, and women's fiction as well as for Francophiles and those fascinated by Tussaud. [The Crown hc received a starred review, LJ Xpress Reviews, 1/13/11; see also LJ's interview with the author, BookSmack! 2/17/11.—Ed.]—David Faucheux, Louisiana Audio Information & Reading Svc., Lafayette
From Versailles to Boulevard du Temple, royalists to revolutionaries, art to science, Moran (Cleopatra's Daughter) returns with a new historical novel of fierce polarities. Set during the French Revolution, with an emphasis on the Reign of Terror, Moran's fourth deftly chronicles the consequences of seeking reversals in power–or liberty. Marie Grosholtz, the talented wax sculptress who would become Madame Tussaud, narrates with verve. She and her family are "survivalists" who "straddle both worlds until it's clear which side will be the victor…" but never come across as opportunists; they are resourceful, sympathetic individuals facing an unraveling nation and an increasingly angry mob mentality. Though readers may wince at the inevitable beheadings, the storming of the Bastille, and the actions of men like Robespierre, Moran tempers brutality with Marie's romance and passion for artistry; quiet moments in the family's atelier provide much needed respite. This is an unusually moving portrayal of families in distress, both common and noble. Marie Antoinette in particular becomes a surprisingly dimensional figure rather than the fashionplate, spendthrift caricature depicted in the pamphlets of her times. A feat for Francophiles and adventurers alike. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
"Certain to be a breakout book for Moran, this superbly written and plotted work is a welcome addition to historical fiction collections. The shocking actions and behavior required of Tussaud to survive the revolution make the novel a true page-turner and a perfect reading group choice."Library Journal, starred review
"This is a first-class novel, brilliantly written, and Michelle Moran has authentically evoked an era, infusing her narrative with passages of gripping and often horrifying drama, set in one of history's most brutal periods. The scope of the author's research is staggering, but you won't need to get to the notes at the end to realize that. As historical novels go, this is of the first ranka page-turner that is both vividly and elegantly written. I feel privileged to be able to endorse it."—Alison Weir, author of Eleanor of Aquitane
"Moran’s latest is an excellent and entertaining novel steeped in the zeitgeist of the period. Highly recommended."Historical Novels Review, Editors' Choice
"This is an unusually moving portrayal of families in distress, both common and noble. Marie Antoinette in particular becomes a surprisingly dimensional figure rather than the fashionplate, spendthrift caricature depicted in the pamphlets of her times. A feat for Francophiles and adventurers alike."Publishers Weekly
"Madame Tussaud...is brought to life in this well-crafted, fast-paced novel by the talented Michelle Moran...Michelle Moran has done what few novelists have been successfully able to accomplish, and that is to depict the full range of the swift political changes that occurred in the few years from the fall of the Bastille to the beheading of the king. Madame Tussaud promises to be a breakout book for this talented writer—a novel that is both a gripping fictionalized biography of an intriguing woman and a well-paced, illuminating chronicle of the French Revolution."New York Journal of Books
"Well-plotted...Mannered and elegant; reminiscent in many ways of novels of days long past."Kirkus
In her fourth novel (after Cleopatra's Daughter), Moran turns from the ancient world to the French Revolution and Madame Tussaud (1761–1850), the namesake of the famous wax museum. The book follows Marie Tussaud from her beginnings as an unknown wax sculptor working to obtain a visit from the royal family, an event that will garner acclaim for her family's wax salon. But when called to tutor a royal family member, she is placed at the center of the downfall of the French monarchy. Tussaud uses her new position to sculpt likenesses of major politicians, turning her salon into a three-dimensional newsstand for illiterate citizens. The result, however, is that the commoners soon demand that she create replicas of executed political figures directly from their corpses. Verdict Certain to be a breakout book for Moran, this superbly written and plotted work is a welcome addition to historical fiction collections. The shocking actions and behavior required of Tussaud to survive the revolution make the novel a true page-turner and a perfect reading group choice. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/10.]—Audrey M. Johnson, Arlington, VA
Well-plotted if sometimes slow-moving novel of the French Revolution and one now-famous survivor of that heady (or, perhaps, be-heady) time.
In late 2010, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London installed its newest exhibit: a wax effigy of Lady Gaga. All that had to have started somewhere, and that's where Moran's (Nefertiti, 2007) tale comes in, adding dimension and emotion to the known historical facts. Here we find Madame Tussaud—then Mademoiselle Grosholtz—at the beginning of an illustrious career as a maker of wax models, all the rage of an aristocracy that, to judge by some of the scenes Moran unfolds, quite deserves to be put up against the wall. This business of being immortalized in wax is "something reserved only for royals and criminals,"young Marie Grosholtz reflects, and it's a trade that she and her fashionmonger colleague Rose Bertin are all too glad to be involved with. As tutor and model maker to the court of King Louis XVI, Marie soon finds herself with a wide circle of friends royal and otherwise, including Marie Antoinette, who seems a touch more sensible than the standard account might have it. Into the picture come and go a parade's worth of eminent historical figures, from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to the Dauphin, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and a very bad Robespierre. Marie is better at art than at guessing the future—"Not everyone may love the queen," she opines, "but they shall always respect her"—and it's only a matter of time before the Marquis de Sade starts to howl down from the Bastille that it's time for the sansculottes to run their own show, which leads to—well, let's just say that it leads to certain difficulties in the pursuit of the celebrity wax trade. Moran's story unfolds deliberately and sometimes glacially, but it eventually arrives where it began, having enfolded a small world of characters and situations.
Mannered and elegant; reminiscent in many ways of novels of days long past, particularly the Baroness Orczy's swifter-pacedScarlet Pimpernel.
Read an Excerpt
December 12, 1788
Although it is mid-December and everyone with sense is huddled near a fire, more than two dozen women are pressed together in Rose Bertin’s shop, Le Grand Mogol. They are heating themselves by the handsome bronze lamps, but I do not go inside. These are women of powdered poufs and ermine cloaks, whereas I am a woman of ribbons and wool. So I wait on the street while they shop in the warmth of the queen’s favorite store. I watch from outside as a girl picks out a showy pink hat. It’s too pale for her skin, but her mother nods and Rose Bertin claps her hands eagerly. She will not be so eager when she notices me. I have come here every month for a year with the same request. But this time I am certain Rose will agree, for I am prepared to offer her something that only princes and murderers possess. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.
I stamp my feet on the slick cobblestones of the Rue Saint- Honoré. My breath appears as a white fog in the morning air. This is the harshest winter in memory, and it has come on the heels of a poor summer harvest. Thousands will die in Paris, some of the cold, others of starvation. The king and queen have gifted the city as much firewood as they can spare from Versailles. In thanks, the people have built an obelisk made entirely of snow; it is the only monument they can afford. I look down the street, expecting to see the fish sellers at their carts. But even the merchants have fled the cold, leaving nothing but the stink of the sea behind them.
When the last customer exits Le Grand Mogol, I hurry inside. I shake the rain from my cloak and inhale the warm scent of cinnamon from the fi re. As always, I am in awe of what Rose Bertin has accomplished in such a small space. Wide, gilded mirrors give the impression that the shop is larger than it really is, and the candles flickering from the chandeliers cast a burnished glow across the oil paintings and embroidered settees. It’s like entering a comtesse’s salon, and this is the effect we have tried for in my uncle’s museum. Intimate rooms where the nobility will not feel out of place. Although I could never afford the bonnets on these shelves— let alone the silk dresses of robin’s-egg blue or apple green— I come here to see the new styles so that I can copy them later. After all, that is our exhibition’s greatest attraction. Women who are too poor to travel to Versailles can see the royal family in wax, each of them wearing the latest fashions.
“Madame?” I venture, closing the door behind me.
Rose Bertin turns, and her high- pitched welcome tells me that she expects another woman in ermine. When I emerge from the shadows in wool, her voice drops. “Mademoiselle Grosholtz,” she says, disappointed.
“I gave you my answer last month.” She crosses her arms over her chest. Everything about Rose Bertin is large. Her hips, her hair, the satin bows that cascade down the sides of her dress.
“Then perhaps you’ve changed your mind,” I say quickly. “I know you have the ear of the queen. They say that there’s no one else she trusts more.”
“And you’re not the only one begging favors of me,” she snaps.
“But we’re good patrons.”
“Your uncle bought two dresses from me.”
“We would buy more if business was better.”
This isn’t a lie. In eighteen days I will be twenty-eight, but there is nothing of value I own in this world except the wax figures that I’ve created for my uncle’s exhibition. I am an inexpensive niece to maintain. I don’t ask for any of the embellishments in Le Journal des Dames, or for pricey chemise gowns trimmed in pearls. But if I had the livres, I would spend them in dressing the figures of our museum. There is no need for me to wear gemstones and lace, but our patrons come to the Salon de Cire to see the finery of kings. If I could, I would gather up every silk fan and furbelow in Rose Bertin’s shop, and our Salon would rival her own. But we don’t have that kind of money. We are showmen, only a little better-off than the circus performers who exhibit next door.
“Think of it,” I say eagerly. “I could arrange a special tableau for her visit. An image of the queen sitting in her dressing room. With you by her side. The Queen and Her Minister of Fashion,” I tell her.
Rose’s lips twitch upward. Although Minister of Fashion is an insult the papers use to criticize her influence over Marie Antoinette, it’s not far from the truth, and she knows this. She hesitates. It is one thing to have your name in the papers, but to be immortalized in wax . . . That is something reserved only for royals and criminals, and she is neither.
“So what would you have me say?” she asks slowly.
My heart beats quickly. Even if the queen dislikes what I’ve done— and she won’t, I know she won’t, not when I’ve taken such pains to get the blue of her eyes just right— the fact that she has personally come to see her wax model will change everything. Our exhibition will be included in the finest guidebooks to Paris. We’ll earn a place in every Catalog of Amusements printed in France. But most important, we’ll be associated with Marie Antoinette. Even after all of the scandals that have attached themselves to her name, there is only good business to be had by entertaining Their Majesties.
“Just tell her that you’ve been to the Salon de Cire. You have, haven’t you?”
“Of course.” Rose Bertin is not a woman to miss anything. Even a wax show on the Boulevard du Temple. “It was attractive.” She adds belatedly, “In its way.”
“So tell that to the queen. Tell her I’ve modeled the busts of Voltaire, Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin. Tell her there will be several of her. And you.”
Rose is silent. Then finally, she says, “I’ll see what I can do.”