". . . [S]plendid . . . [VERSAILLES] is rapturous, like an aria.Stacey D'Erasmo The New York Times Book Review
"Elegant . . . a persuasive and sympathetic portrait of Antoinette."Katharine Weber The Los Angeles Times
"Davis has a poetic sensibility, a canny eye for details . . . Davis gives us . . . the stuff of true art."David Guy The Washington Post
"Davis is so skilled at draping . . . gemlike images around her story . . ."John Freeman Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"An elegant novel . . . the voice Davis has given [Antoinette] is by turns sage, mercurial, and ravishing." The New Yorker
A reflective, mysterious novel about human development.
The New York Times Book Review
"My soul is going on a trip. I want to talk about her." This elegant, idiosyncratic novel begins when Marie Antoinette, née Maria Antonia Josephina Johanna, Archduchess of Austria, aged fourteen, is riding in a blue-satin-lined carriage on her way to be married to the Dauphin of France. It ends with her death. Except for the brief, witty playlets studded throughout the narrative (in which various minor actors try to figure out what's going on), the Queen tells her own story, and the voice Davis has given her is by turns sage, mercurial, and ravishing. It is also edged with doom, each word bordered in black by the reader's own premonitions.
Davis (Walking Tour) takes liberties with the legend of Marie Antoinette in this novelization of the doomed queen's life, narrated as a series of sketches told mainly from Antoinette's point of view. As Davis imagines it, Antoinette is a bawdy, clever, forthright young woman interested above all in her own pleasures; she and her bumbling husband, Louis XVI, are guilty of little more than enjoying their courtly privileges. Davis has a light touch, and she sometimes wryly acknowledges questions of historical veracity that the novel inevitably raises. Recalling a conversation with Axel, a member of the Swedish court and object of her affection, Antoinette says, "Of course these may not have been our exact words, though they're close enough, at least in spirit." A few pages later, in case the reader gets any ideas about consulting an encyclopedia: "Nor does it matter, really, if Axel was my lover, in the physical sense at least.... It matters to historians, most of them men. It matters to gossips, most of them women. The pleasure is in the speculation.... Were we sexually intimate? What difference could it possibly make to you?" Such playful self-reflexivity is woven through accounts of historic events and personages, among them Madame Du Barry, Mirabeau and the story of the imprisonment and execution of the king and queen. Davis's Antoinette a wit and a flirt is bewitching, and the book is an alternately funny and melancholy meditation on the passage of time and the vagaries of history. (Aug. 8) Forecast: Writer's writer Davis deserves a broader audience; glamorous subject Marie Antoinette and a glittery chandelier-festooned jacket may help break her out. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The narration in this short historical novel switches from first person (Marie Antoinette) to third person. Occasional chapters are written in the form of the script of a play, including set and stage directions and dialogue, which break up the flow of the story. Beginning with the 14-year-old's trip from Austria to marry the young Louis of France, it ends with her ascent to the guillotine. Most of the action takes place at Versailles, with the chateau taking on the role of an important character, as important as any of the people portrayed. The reader is given historical facts pertaining to not only the people and events, but also the palace and its grounds. In fact, many of the chapter headings refer to rooms and features of Versailles. Antoinette is portrayed as mostly faithful to Louis, a gambler and a spender, and hated by the French because of her Austrian birth. Because of its wonderful and varied voice, and the foreshadowing of the French Revolution in many of the scenes, history and English teachers will be able to use this piece of literature as a complement to a study of this historical period. Readers will need some historical background to understand the significance of many events described, and so this is not a book that will develop much of an audience for leisure reading. However, it is a fast read with depth and multidimensional characters, especially Marie Antoinette and the opulent Versailles. KLIATT Codes: SA-Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Little, Brown, Back Bay, 206p., Ages 15 to adult.
Davis (The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf) offers a short but poignant meditation on the life of Marie Antoinette and the role of fate in our lives. Much has been written about that queen, but this novel is unique, using Versailles and its Hall of Mirrors as much more than just a building and a room. Versailles was built to reflect the glory and power of Louis XIV, but by the end of the 18th century it had become a cocoon sheltering its inhabitants in a beautiful but artificial world. At the age of 14, Marie leaves her Austrian homeland to join her fianc , the eventual Louis XVI. Never quite at home in France and never really accepted by her subjects, she finds solace in Versailles itself. She flits from room to room, from circumstance to circumstance, unaware of the symbol she has become until it is too late. The portrait that emerges is of a woman hemmed in by fate and her own na vet , who has her faults but who is nonetheless courageous and devoted to her family. Told from Marie's perspective, this is a refreshing change of pace from the typical historical novel and is highly recommended to all public and most academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/02.] David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The lyric gifts familiar from Davis (The Walking Tour, 1999, etc.) are on display again in this fictional life of Marie Antoinette-but technique rushes in as emotion goes into hiding. There's flash aplenty, and data galore, as Davis, in a compressed and impressionistic narrative, follows the doomed queen from childhood in Vienna on to glory in France, later through a widow's dreary imprisonment, then to the very moment her head is severed by the guillotine's blade-and even a little beyond. But there's also a brittleness in tone and a certain stasis of manner that make the reader feel as though little is happening even when the monarchy itself is collapsing. Partly this rigidity may be the result of a divided focus: it's unclear whether Davis's subject is Versailles itself and the famously rich profligacy of the Bourbons, or whether it's the queen herself, the real person, Marie Antoinette. Throughout are examples of tone slightly off-as when, early on, traveling to France, the young Antoinette remarks how much food the royal caravan consumes each day ("150 chickens, 270 pounds of beef . . . "), something more credible in the Michelin Guide than in the young princess's thoughts. The tour-like information is always interesting ("An unfortunate site for the seat of Bourbon power, really: a hillock of unstable sand in the middle of a swamp in a wind tunnel of a valley"), but it lacks any capacity for bringing the story's characters to life-not least its central figure and most frequent speaker, the queen. Much is fascinating-the king's penis, for example: something is wrong with it, and it's feared there will be no heirs-and there are moments of loveliness ("Shoes of soft leather, harddiamond heels. Where is the time gone? Who is the thief?")-but never the inward life that alone can bring about any true drama. Thoroughly researched, carefully composed-yet psychologically inert and unalive.