Friday, July 20, 2012
Author: Susanne Dunlap
Genre: Historical fiction, YA
Publisher: Bloomsbury 2012
Read for: Review, Paris in July
Eliza Monroe, Hortense de Beauhernais, and Caroline Bonaparte all attend the fashionable Academie in Paris. However, their attention is on much more than classes -- they are all wrapped up in worlds of romance and political intrigue. Life begins to get complicated as the girls' lives intersect and they experience generosity, love, and betrayal.
I thought the premise of The Academie sounded fascinating. A school in Paris, full of real characters from history? What more could I ask? However, while The Academie was entertaining, it left something to be desired. The story lacked the meatiness that could have made it a truly compelling read.
I think the first issue was the abundance of central characters. The author switches back and forth from the perspectives of Eliza Monroe, Hortense de Beauhernais, and a mysterious actress named Madeline. All of the characters are interconnected, and all have romantic interests (at times, conflicting ones). While it wasn't difficult to keep the characters' narratives straight, it was difficult to connect with the characters when they were constantly changing perspective. I think if one girl had been chosen as the main focus and the rest of the story had been viewed through the lens of her experience, the story would have been more evocative and powerful. Instead, The Academie was a series of snapshots that gave us many angles on the situation but little depth.
I did enjoy the romantic intrigues -- everyone had a love interest, and some were lucky enough to have two. However, I think the romance would have been more palpable if one character had been emphasized and given the opportunity to really develop her relationships. I loved Armand, for example, with his willingness to jump into an awkward situation and help the girls, but I felt that I didn't really know him well enough to connect with him. Hortense, with her several awkward connections, also would have been more interesting if more developed.
My final issue was that the language was more "telling" rather than "showing." I didn't feel swept up or involved in the story. I was entertained by reading it, but felt it was being narrated to me rather than enfolding me, if that makes sense. The language was a bit simplistic and distant.
However, with all these complaints, I will say that it was an enjoyable. I didn't feel a strong connection to it, but it did hold my interest enough that I wanted to know the result of the book. The Academie definitely tells an interesting story, but left some things to be desired.
Warnings: Some mild violence, possibly some brief profanity, allusions to affairs