By Michelle Moran
Michelle Moran crept up my list of favorite authors with The Heretic Queen and I very much enjoyed Nefertiti and Cleopatra’s Daughter. When I heard she would be writing about the French Revolution I’m sure I screamed with joy. Knowing how well she handled Egypt, I had all the faith in the world she would do Marie Antoinette’s France proud.
Maria Grosholtz is a wax sculptor living and working in her family’s small museum. Marie is extraordinarily talented when it comes to creating lifelike models of people, including the aristocracy, and her skills are in demand from well to-do patrons who want to see themselves immortalized. Her family has always considered their work to be a means for the public to look at and admire not just royalty but the newsmakers of their day which included Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson among the long list of French men and women making a name for themselves through good works or bedroom antics. When whisperings of the Revolution begin she worries about business, and when the full out assault on the King and Queen begins, she does her best to stay afloat in business and keep her head attached to her neck in a time when everyone is being beheaded.
Before becoming Madame Tussaud, Marie was a woman tied to her business and because of that she lets the love of her life escape France without her. The emotional outpouring she has in that moment is the reason I enjoy Moran’s books so much. She takes someone we know and re-creates that person in a way that makes you unable to put the book down. In this case, it helped so much was going on in the background too — it kept me wondering who was going to walk through the door of the wax museum next and whether or not Marie would be off to once more create a plaster impression of a newly beheaded traitor to the Revolution. She found the work disgusting but wanting to keep her family safe, agrees to do it anyway. In some ways she becomes a bit of a walking zombie torn between her work and sad life she lives during her country’s darkest days. (In real life, I think this may have been exactly the opposite because from what little I know, Madame Tussaud was supposedly quite the show person when it came to her work. But don’t quote me on that, I haven’t confirmed it with the internets as of this writing.)
I have a soft spot for books set in this time frame and I think it has much to do with the fact that I have a not so secret desire to visit France. I want to walk the halls of the Palace of Versailles and be awed by the sheer number of mirrors, experience the gardens, and stroll the Champs-Elysees. Madame Tussaud was a satisfying little diversion for the France trip dream and if you’re new to Michelle Moran’s work, I’d recommend this one. She does a good job creating a fantastic corner of France during the Revolution.