Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Title: Madame Tussaud
Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Crown, 2011
Source: Library (really, why do I even assume otherwise?)
Read for: Fun!

Marie Grosholtz is an ambitious artist, hoping to reap money and fame from the salon that she and her "uncle," Curtius, run. She goes to public events hoping to capture famous faces for her wax models. Her exposure to the famous is increased when she is invited by the king's sister to spend time at Versailles and tutor her in the art of making wax figures. However, with tensions from the unhappy citizens of France mounting to what will erupt into the French Revolution, Marie is forced to make choices - between royalty and the common citizens, right and wrong, and love and ambition.

I was pleasantly blown away by this novel. I honestly came into it with low expectations. I had a lukewarm experience with Nefertiti - not unpleasant, bear in mind, but certainly not sweeping. I had heard that Madame Tussaud suffered from similar flaws and so I assumed it would be a similar experience. I was unprepared for the torrent of vivid imagery and naked emotion, as well as a healthy dose of history to feed my brain.

Whether she is describing the gown of Marie Antoinette, the stunning architecture of Versailles (and the filth that overlays it), or the depravity of a convict's leer, Moran's writing requires very little effort from the imagination. Everything is described minutely; however, this did not slow down the story for me. Marie lived every moment taking in details of appearance and mannerism so she could realistically create perfect copies in her models, and the presentation of those details worked. It was fascinating to read the way she noted certain features and facial twitches and linked them to the personality of her model. This talent allowed the horrors of the French Revolution to sink in more powerfully than they have with any other book in my experience. It wasn't always a beautiful image that imprinted itself on my mind, but it was always a moving one. With the capturing of such details of brutality and violence came strong emotions that left me strongly invested in the story.

I also enjoyed the history. I am no expert on the French Revolution, but the details of the events along with the historical notes at the conclusion of the book lead me to believe that much of it was factual. I remember going to Madame Tussaud's wax museum in Las Vegas, but I had no idea that she was an artist from the French Revolution era, forced to make death masks of prominent traitors (or patriots, depending on whose opinion it was). I also knew very little about Marie Antoinette other than her youth at the age of marriage and the fact that she was criticized harshly for lavish expenditures during her reign as queen. This book opened my eyes to pieces of history from this era that I had never been exposed to before.

I thought I would only enjoy this book as a francophile, but I enjoyed it on many levels, enjoying the process of learning, the visual details, the relationships and strongly stirred emotions. If you love learning about the French Revolution, read it. If you're a history buff, read it. But even if you're not, there's a great chance that you will still relate to this book strongly. So... read it!

4 stars

Warnings: Violence, non-explicit sexuality


  1. Historical fiction is something I've been considering lately, because I really WANT to like it. And honestly, I think I probably WILL like it. I just need to set aside some time to pick a great historical fiction book. So I'm taking notes...

    ...thanks for bringing this one to my attention. I've heard of it but I had never taken the time to learn anything about it. You make it sound wonderful.


  2. When I saw that you reviewed this I was so excited. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed it. I had similar feelings going into the novel, but, like you, was absolutely enamored with this one upon completion. I researched Marie after reading it and found that she really put a lot into providing a reliable historical backdrop. I will note that I really enjoyed the fact that she didn't run with the whole love story side of things, but rather portrayed a very driven female protagonist. Great review and glad to see you enjoyed it.

  3. @Asheley - It's funny - while I enjoyed Historical fiction as a little girl (I loved those Dear America diaries!) I have always been really turned off to it as an adult until this summer. Suddenly I can't get enough! I'm not sure why that is, but I've really been enjoying it lately. And I would say this is a great one to start with if you are wanting to get into the genre.

    @Beth - It's good to hear that you researched it and found that there was some truth in what was written! I always feel like I should research historical fiction books after I read them to find out what is true and what isn't, but I am too lazy and never do. I like the fact that (SPOILER FOR ANYONE WHO HASN'T READ THE BOOK... STOP READING FOR THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH) she doesn't wait for Henri, but he is still there for her in the end anyway. Not that life usually works out that way. But it was nice.

  4. Great review! Not going to lie here... the cover has turned me off from this one a little bit. Just the way she's blatantly staring so intently. Don't know why that's an issue lol, but now that I've read your review, I'll keep it in mind on future library trips. :)

  5. Bailey - Haha yeah the cover is kind of creepy. I guess sometimes it really is good to not judge a book by its cover!

  6. I am so excited to read this book; I've had my copy for a couple of months now and have been trying to figure out when I should read it!

  7. Natalie - I think you will love it! From the reviews of yours that I have read in the past, this seems like your kind of book. I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on it once you get to it!


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