Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

Posted January 7, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

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Madame Tussaud

Madame Tussaud

by Michelle Moran

Publisher: Crown on February 15, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Target Age Group: Adult
Rating: ★★★★½

Check out this book on Goodreads

Smart and ambitious, Marie Tussaud has learned the secrets of wax sculpting by working alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire. From her popular model of the American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson, to her tableau of the royal family at dinner, Marie's museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip, and even politics. Her customers hail from every walk of life, yet her greatest dream is to attract the attention of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI; their stamp of approval on her work could catapult her and her museum to the fame and riches she desires. After months of anticipation, Marie learns that the royal family is willing to come and see their likenesses. When they finally arrive, the king's sister is so impressed that she requests Marie's presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting. It is a request Marie knows she cannot refuse - even if it means time away from her beloved Salon and her increasingly dear friend, Henri Charles.

As Marie gets to know her pupil, Princesse Élisabeth, she also becomes acquainted with the king and queen, who introduce her to the glamorous life at court. From lavish parties with more delicacies than she's ever seen to rooms filled with candles lit only once before being discarded, Marie steps into a world entirely different from her home on the Boulevard du Temple, where people are selling their teeth in order to put food on the table.

Meanwhile, many resent the vast separation between rich and poor. In salons and cafés across Paris, people like Camille Desmoulins, Jean-Paul Marat, and Maximilien Robespierre are lashing out against the monarchy. Soon, there's whispered talk of revolution... Will Marie be able to hold on to both the love of her life and her friendship with the royal family as France approaches civil war? And more important, will she be able to fulfill the demands of powerful revolutionaries who ask that she make the death masks of beheaded aristocrats, some of whom she knows?

Spanning five years, from the budding revolution to the Reign of Terror, Madame Tussaud brings us into the world of an incredible heroine whose talent for wax modeling saved her life and preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom.

 

You know, I wasn’t sure I was going to like Madame Tussaud.  A lot of my friends’ Goodreads reviews called it incredibly average.  I guess in many ways, there’s not a lot to the style and technique to make Madame Tussaud stand out from other historical fiction novels about the same sort of topic.  And, when I mean topic, I absolutely mean the French Revolution – not Marie Tussaud herself.  But I did end up enjoying it, because I’m not so overly endowed on books about the French Revolution, and at any rate, I like the perspective used by Michelle Moran to explore the topic.

While I would have been interested in a story more uniquely about Marie herself, using her as a vehicle to discuss both sides of the French Revolution was clever.  When reading historical fiction, especially ones around the flights of war, it’s typical to take one side or another.  As an historian, I’ve been encouraged to try and set aside bias – and guys, that is so hard.  We impress not only personal opinions on topics, but also modern intelligence and morals.  In choosing Marie Tussaud to talk about the French Revolution, Michelle Moran created a world with a character who had torn alliances – liberty, or the royal family?  In this narrative, Marie saw the French ruling family as people, a far cry from the bloodthirsty mobs of the poor, or of the National Convention.

I will say, I don’t know a whole lot about the French Revolution.  I don’t know a lot about Marie Tussaud.  But I appreciate that Michelle Moran follows up the story admitting the things she changed for the narrative, because it adds a level of speculative accuracy to the rest of the fiction.  Per Moran, there’s no definitive word on whether Marie was a Royalist or not, because seeing this story from a figure who tried to play both sides, finding both sides wrong and both sides right… that was interesting.  I really liked that.

Unlike most historical fiction, Madame Tussaud does not linger on romantic conquests.  Rather, Marie spurns them (kindly).  For me, in this genre, that was SO refreshing.  It frustrates me in any book when romance overrides the plot, and it doubly frustrates me in historical fiction when imaginary romances are created to amuse the reader.  Historically significant people are more than their love stories, and if they don’t have one… don’t make one?  Or do, whatever, but that book is not for me.  I know a lot of people come to historical fiction looking for a love story, so I do want to warn potential readers that the love story is very minor… to practically non-existent.

The only thing I would have liked to see more of in this novel was character development.  I feel that happens often in the genre as well – characters are allowed to let their reputations precede them.  Marie’s character was developed well enough, but the people in her inner circle were shallow or unexplored.  I would have loved to see more of the others.

There’s also not a lot of time spent in the museum or working with wax… and the time we spend with Marie at her craft feels rushed and repetitive.  Obviously, when there’s a war going on, there are things more important than her exhibition.  It would have been interesting to see how things grew after the end of the Revolution, but there is a lot of time and material already covered in this book… so I get it.  I could have read a duology, though!

While I liked Madame Tussaud, I can see how the book may not be for everyone.  It’s an interesting perspective for fans of historical fiction who like to see less biased takes on major world events, and lower levels of romance.  I enjoyed it!  And I hope some of you would as well!

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Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★ 1/2
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Narrator: ★★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★★
Overall: ★★★★ 1/2

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Have you been to any of Madame Tussaud’s museums?  I haven’t, but I would really like to go!  We almost went in London in 2018.  If you’ve been, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!

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