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Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution - Michelle Moran 40 pages in, the writing was awkward and nothing in the characters or story had yet caught my attention. By my estimate, Moran is a few steps above Philippa Gregory, but that’s not saying much.

And now I am going to use the rest of this “review” as a soapbox. Ranting ahead.


2nd: What’s with all the illogical use of first-person present tense these days? This book has a prologue set in 1812. Then it goes back to the main story starting in 1788, and that’s in present tense. How can the character be telling her story in present tense when it’s all already over? Okay, the first-person conceit itself often makes little sense and we overlook that. (And the bookend prologue and epilogue don't actually help that here, because she isn't telling her story in 1812, just being reminded of it.) But dammit, if your story is in the present tense then it’s happening right now. In which case, it isn’t over. Please, authors, think about this.

3rd: This book just has such a bourgeois sensibility (I learned how to spell that word just for this review. I did not learn it from this book because it is not used in the first 40 pages, and I wouldn’t be surprised the characters never use it, even though they actually speak French). And that’s not what I’m looking for when I read a book about the French Revolution. You know, there are literally thousands of wars and conflicts you could write about if you want a “oh, they’re murdering people! How terrible!” sort of book. The French Revolution is different. It came up time and time again in completely unrelated history and literature classes in college, not because people got killed but because it’s rather important in world history: for the ideas, for the effect on social and political structures around the world. And what I learned in class is basically all I know about it--the historical fiction on point just doesn’t seem to be very good. I’ve read A Tale of Two Cities, which is the only Dickens so far that I haven’t liked. But I’m pretty confident that it still did a better job than this book. If I’m going to read a novel about the French Revolution, I want it to really deal with the ideas and the effects and the underlying causes. I want it to care as much about a peasant dying of starvation as it does about a royal being guillotined. I want it to let me make my own moral judgments. I want main characters who are not from the upper classes and revolutionaries who are at least sympathetic, and an aristocracy that is not whitewashed. And I want it to be at least somewhat well-written. And this was not going to be that book.

In fairness, the book does have a picture of a woman in a fancy dress on the cover, so it’s not exactly hiding anything. But she was a career woman*, not a noblewoman, so I thought it might be okay. Then she started saying things like “The king and queen have gifted the city with as much firewood as they can spare from Versailles” and I realized no, no it wouldn’t. A book that thinks a little bit of charity makes systemic abuses okay is not the French Revolution book I’m looking for.

So, if you know of the book I’m looking for, please let me know. This is not it.

* And I was so excited to read historical fiction featuring a career woman who actually existed, which meant I wouldn't have to wade through a bunch of reviews by people who know no more about history than I do but are nevertheless firmly convinced that the character is anachronistic because everybody knows no woman ever made her own way before the 20th century. But Moran's rendering of this character was so bland that it didn't matter.