Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey
Author: Juliet Grey
Genre: Fiction (Historical / French / Marie Antoinette / 18th century / Royals)
Publisher/Publication Date: Ballantine Books (8/9/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Liked a great deal!
Did I finish?: Yes -- I'm dying for the sequel.
One-sentence summary: A detailed, human novel of the early years of Marie Antoinette's life.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: It's okay -- I'm not wild about it although I do appreciate that the model's entire face is shown rather than cut off at the eyes like so many hist fic covers.
I'm reminded of...: Sandra Gulland
First line: My mother liked to boast that her numerous daughters were "sacrifices to politics".
Did... I wish there was a Who's Who in this book?: YES. There are so many courtiers and nobles I kind of lost sense of who was who from time to time.
Did... I want to cry at the horrible dental word Marie Antoinette had to suffer through?: YES. Eighteenth century dentistry. YUCK!
Did... I want this novel to continue on?: YES. At nearly 450 pages, it's a nice, chunky read but I so liked Marie Antoinette's character, I wanted more!
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow for sure: this is the first in a meaty trilogy you don't want to miss!
Why did I get this book?: I love French historicals with my whole body.
Review: I love novels that humanize notorious figures so I was eager for Grey's take on Marie Antoinette. From the first page, I immediately liked our famously despised heroine. Starting with her childhood, Grey introduces us to the pretty, jubilant young girl who is sacrificed to her mother's political aims. There's a staggering amount of research in this novel -- and it shows. The novel is written in first person, as Maria Antonia (as she's known in Austria) is polished and shaped and improved for her politically expedient marriage to the dauphin of France, and as she learns, we the reader learn. From the torturous gold braces required to straighten her smile to the ponderous, painful, ridiculous traditions of the French court, I was mesmerised.
The novel ends just as Louis becomes king and Marie Antoinette queen; she's eighteen. What I appreciated the most about Grey's writing is that I never forgot our heroine was a child, essentially, and yet, I didn't find the story childish or young. Marie Antoinette's behavior -- recorded and memorialized by numerous courtiers and writers -- is made human, realistic, and believable in Grey's hands. I felt deeply sympathetic toward most of the characters in this novel, even the villains (especially the infamous Madame du Barry), because Grey provided such great context and grounding for their behavior.
I'm excited for the second novel (this is a trilogy) and eager to see how Grey humanizes Marie Antoinette during some of France's most notorious historical moments. Another marvelous historical escape for the summer!
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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Becoming Marie Antoinette to one reader! To enter, leave a comment with your email address. Open to US/CA readers, closes 9/9.