Confessions of Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey
Author: Juliet Grey
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 18th Century / France / French Revolution / Royalty / Marie Antoinette / Motherhood)
Publisher/Publication Date: Ballantine Books (9/24/2013)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: The final four years of Marie Antoinette's life.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: Love it! Was iffy about the covers for the previous two books although now that it's not a photograph of a model, I'm sort of missing it...
I'm reminded of...: Sandra Gulland, Susan Holloway Scott
First line: "We will take the queen dead or alive!"
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy all three books if you like historical novels about royalty, France, and/or biographical novels of the notorious made human.
Why did I get this book?: I love Marie Antoinette and Grey's previous two novels about her. (See my review of the first book, Becoming Marie Antoinette.)
Review: Marie Antoinette is one of those historical figures I will always be drawn to; I'm rather sympathetic toward her and feel she was treated unfairly by history. Grey's trilogy about the infamous queen is a welcome addition to the subgenre of royal historical fiction.
Her first book, Becoming Marie Antoinette, beautifully articulated the teenaged queen in an honest but appreciative light (many of the insults and crimes lobbed at Marie Antoinette, including the infamous 'Let them eat cake' quote, had been previously attributed to other hated women in power) as the second, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, showed the young queen carving out some measure of pleasure and happiness for herself, at great personal expense, a woman growing into herself despite -- or because of -- intense public scrutiny.
This book, the final in the trilogy, plunges immediately into the wild, violent turmoil of the burgeoning French Revolution. Grey splits the narrative in this book between Marie Antoinette and a 'commoner', a (historical) sculptor named Louison Chabry. While I initially resented this interloper, within a chapter, I was convinced. As Grey explains in her afterword, Louison allows the reader to see what Marie Antoinette can't, and the result ratchets up tension and anxiety.
This novel spans October 5, 1789 through to October 16, 1793 -- the day of Marie Antoinette's execution. (I will admit I bawled at the end.) Scarred by the loss of two children, the cruelties of court life and the unceasing hatred thrown at her by the populous, the queen's steely resolve -- seen through all three books -- is even more obvious as she strives to support her husband first and foremost. More than once she says she'll die at his side than flee to safety. The heart-wrenching abuse heaped upon the royals makes me wonder if I might be a closet royalist, especially as she reveals the twisting machinations of the revolutionary supporters that Louison knows. Despite knowing how everything ends, I was fairly breathless most of the book, just dreading That Moment.
Biographical fiction can be tricky: authors need to stick to t historical record but must also convince the reader of the emotional truth of any decision or action. From the first page of the first book, Grey had me convinced: I believed her Marie Antoinette, I understood her, and I empathized with her. One of the aspects of Grey's trilogy I've come to deeply appreciate is that she alters her Marie Antoinette from one book to the next. The Austrian princess we meet in Becoming Marie Antoinette is a very different creature from the one we say goodbye to at the end of this book, yet she's not a whole new character in each volume. Grey articulates the way this sweet, occasionally superficial teenager grew into a mature woman -- a flawed creature I just loved.
Those new to the trilogy might be able to follow the novel - Grey lightly reminds us who is who in the narrative, but I think the emotional oomph could be missing for those who haven't read the first two books. (For example, there's a historically accurate scene in which the previous king's mistress offers shelter to Marie Antoinette and her family. Readers who missed their acrimonious interactions in the first book might not get the same emotional sizzle I did.)
Grey offers an extensive - 19 pages! - afterword about all the major players from the trilogy, which is satisfying and peppered with enough tidbits to make me wish many would get their own novel. Grey's considerable research is apparent but not obvious: the story comes first, and it's impossible not to be gripped.
This final book was just the conclusion I needed, filled with rich detail and human emotion. Grab all three books and settle in for an emotional, surprising armchair escape and get to know one of history's more infamous royals. Vive Juliet Grey! (May she write more books for me to inhale!)
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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Confessions of Marie Antoinette to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 10/4.
Be sure to check out my interview with the author and another chance to enter!