Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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 √Člisabeth, 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 caf√©s 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. -- Crown

I have been in a reading slump the past week or so and haven't really done much reading. I have a lot going on in my personal life right now and I just couldn't seem to find the time to read. And then when I picked up a book before bedtime, I found myself nodding off after just a few pages. I am so glad that I decided to read
MADAME TUSSAUD: A NOVEL OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION by Michelle Moran in anticipation of today's release date. I am a huge fan of Ms. Moran's and I always know that I'm in for a treat when I read one of her books. This wonderful book was exactly what I needed to get back in my reading groove.

MADAME TUSSAUD was just fantastic and encompassed everything I've come to know and love about a Michelle Moran novel. I have to admit that when Ms. Moran told me she was working on a novel about Marie Tussaud, I wasn't exactly thrilled -- isn't that awful to admit? I guess I was just extremely ignorant because I had no idea how fascinating Marie Tussaud's story would be. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the role Madame Tussaud and her family played in the French Revolution. And I found it interesting to learn the history of her wax museum (I had no idea that the exhibit was actually a way for the people of France to learn about current events.)

There were so many great things about this novel that I barely know where to start. I loved the story and Ms. Moran's writing, but I also liked how much I learned about the French Revolution while reading this book. (You already know that I do like to get my history lessons from historical fiction!) I have only read a few novels about the French Revolution and this entire time period, but I loved how original the perspective was in this book. Because of Marie's family and their business, Marie was in a rather difficult position. On one hand, she was tutoring the King's sister and had ties to the royal family. And on the other hand, her family was entertaining major players in the revolution. Needless to say, Marie was kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place, and I found her balancing act to make quite a suspenseful story.

Another thing that I most enjoyed about this novel was the character of Marie. She was such an intriguing individual, and Ms. Moran did a wonderful job of developing her character. I'm not sure that I always liked Marie (or could relate to her), but I did appreciate her drive and dedication to her career. There is no doubt that Marie was a savvy businesswoman who was way ahead of her time (she even had her husband sign a prenup which was very unusual in those days!) However, it was that very same dedication to the family business that kept her from finding true happiness in a relationship. I did feel a great deal of sympathy for Marie throughout the novel, but because Marie was such a strong woman, I also found myself questioning some of her actions. What I'm trying to say is that Marie's character was extremely complex, and I loved that about her.

And what more can I really say about Michelle Moran that I haven't already said in my reviews of her other novels (you can see more gushing here and here.) She is definitely one of my favorite historical fiction authors (and probably one of my all-time favorite authors too!) Her writing is so easy to read and she makes history, which isn't one of my favorite subjects, incredibly interesting. I love how she takes real characters and enhances their stories to make me really care about them. In addition, the historical aspects of her novel are so well done. It's apparent that she heavily researched Madame Tussaud and the French Revolution prior to writing this book. I thought her descriptions and details of the time period were superb and really added to my understanding of the story.

I'm pretty sure that MADAME TUSSAUD will make an excellent book club pick although I wasn't able to find many discussion questions... yet. I know a lot of book groups only like to select paperbacks because of the expense, and I'm sure by the paperback release there will be an excellent guide. In the meantime, I found a few questions in this reading guide which was written by Ms. Moran. I honestly don't think you'd need a formal guide to discuss this novel because Marie was such an interesting character. In addition, the events surrounding the French Revolution are fascinating. I, for one, could talk about Marie and her family's actions for hours.

I also want to mention that Ms. Moran is available for author chats to discuss any of her novels. My group was fortunate enough to "meet" with her a few years ago and she was extremely gracious and so much fun to talk to. The chat definitely enhanced our reading experience.

Of course, it's obvious how much I adored MADAME TUSSAUD and I highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction and especially readers who are interested in the French Revolution. Trust me -- this is a book that you don't want to miss!

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this novel.


Sandy Nawrot said...

Never read Moran, and honestly I thought Madame Tussaud was just some brand name on these cheesy wax museums. How fascinating! I just learned something new today!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Everything I have heard about this book is positive!

bermudaonion said...

I haven't read Moran's work either, but I keep meaning to. I want to try historical fiction at its best! Great review!

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Great review, and happy launch day to Michelle!

diaryofaneccentric said...

I can't wait to start this book! I've loved all of Moran's previous novels, so I have high hopes for this one. Glad to see you enjoyed it.

Amy said...

I'm so glad this book helped you out of your reading slump. It sounds like a fascinating story & I am quite interested in finding out about the woman behind the wax museum here in NYC. I am very interested in this book now that it was absorbing enough to pull you back into reading!

~ Amy
I hope things are going better for you or are less distracting. Take care.

SuziQoregon said...

Moran's other books haven't really sparked my interest but this one - I want to read and soon!!!

marthalama said...

I want to read this one so much. I'm on the waiting list at my library with my fingers crossed people read it quickly. I've never read any of her other work. I'm going to have to add her to my list of authors I just must read.

Alyce said...

I've been enjoying this book (I'm in the middle of it) and so far the only thing that's thrown me off is that it's written in present tense, which just isn't my favorite tense to read (and that's from any story/author). I'm looking forward to seeing how things play out in the story though.

iwriteinbooks said...

Oh oh ooooh! I can't WAIT to read this! I just finished REVOLUTION and I'm on a French revolution kick, right now.

Gwendolyn B. said...

This book is coming up in my TBR pile. I like your honesty in admitting you weren't initally thrilled about Moran's subject because that's exactly how I was feeling. Should have trusted that Michelle would never pick a boring subject to write about. Your review has me looking forward to this one!

stephanie said...

Just finished reading this for my book club(we voted and my choice won).
I absolutely loved this book! I love history, my favorite subject, combine it with some fiction and I'm in heaven.Now I need to go back and reread to get some questions for our discussion.

marge said...

I just finish Madame Tussaud. I couldn't put it down. I came across your site as I was looking up facts on the characters in Moran's work. What fun!!!