Iset's Reviews > Madame Tussaud

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran
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's review
Feb 13, 2011

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bookshelves: revolution-age-1650-to-1837ce-ficti

Anachronisms and historical inaccuracies have been a big problem in Moran’s past novels, and Madame Tussaud has a scattered few, none that are too major, but just enough to take away from that feeling of authenticity that all historical novelists must strive for, and they do feel quite odd in the novel’s setting. In terms of anachronisms, I caught characters using all-too modern vernacular on a couple of occasions, fortunately nothing too bad. For the most part, the niggles stayed that way, although Moran does fiddle around with dates, and in a big typo blooper one chapter is dated to 10th October 1789 and then the two chapters directly following it, in which events are supposed to be unfolding linearly, are dated to 5th and 7th October 1789.

Probably the biggest historical inaccuracies in this book are actually what Moran has omitted, not what she has put in. Being pretty familiar with this period, I kept waiting and waiting to read about the Girondin Club and the Paris Commune, but I turned the final page and they were nowhere to be found, pretty astonishing given the big role they played in the Revolution. Moran explains in her Author’s Note that she left them out of the story in essence because she felt there was so much stuff going on in the Revolution anyway that to complicate the story any further wasn’t a decision she was prepared to make. I think I could have coped with their inclusion, but at least she admits to the omission in her Author’s Note and explains why, when too many authors just leave you wondering or attempt to claim that their version of events is completely accurate (I’m looking at you, Philippa Gregory). Also, I feel I must say that I think Moran’s portrayal of the royal family is debatable. Certainly, they were never guilty of the heinous charges levelled at them in their trials, but Moran paints them as wholly sympathetic, and some of their bad actions and poor decisions are omitted or skimmed over and spun in a sympathetic manner.

In my review of Michelle Moran’s previous novel, Cleopatra’s Daughter, I noted that Moran was prone to giving us exposition dumps. Most stories, in film and on the page, require at least some degree of exposition, especially if they’re in a setting unfamiliar to the audience or reader, but how this is handled can vary. Exposition done well is usually integrated and woven into the plot, and released in small snippets over time, and in this form the exposition escapes the pitfalls of coming across as if it has been written solely for the reader/viewer’s benefit, and it mirrors the way that in real life we too learn a little bit at a time over a period, this actually adds to the story’s sense of believability. Poorly done exposition is usually delivered in what I term an exposition dump. It is not given to us a tiny bit at a time over the whole story, but plopped down in the book or film all in one big go, and tends to be very loosely woven into the plot, if at all. As a result, it feels clumsy and clunky within the scene, and it is all too obvious that it is there for our benefit. Madame Tussaud handles exposition in much the same way as Cleopatra’s Daughter; it’s plopped down in chunks and I even know when it’s coming because the salon that Marie and her mentor Philippe Curtius hold for such figures as the Duc d’Orleans, Robespierre, Marat and Camille is used as a vehicle every single time. It’s played out as a discussion between the philosophers, and usually our main character, Marie, takes a backseat and says nothing for several pages whilst the explanations occur. That said, credit where credit is due, this is a little better incorporated into the plot than the exposition dumps we got in Cleopatra’s Daughter, I felt.

Marie never came across as too perfect, which was a relief in a first person novel which can tend towards self-involvement from the protagonist, and her faults laid in her tendency towards workalholicism and her ability to misjudge people. That said I do wish there was one fault that she hadn’t been given. (view spoiler)

As much as I dislike characters who are Perfect Little Miss Mary Sues, but this was almost enough to tip the character of Marie over into someone I didn’t want to like or read about. Her response just seems abominably callous and cold.

Once or twice, the novel suffers from logic failures, nothing major though, and again once or twice I got a little bit of a sense of name-dropping, but it wasn't overpowering.

Some reviewers have complained that the book was less Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution and more The French Revolution from the Perspective of Madame Tussaud – they wanted more of specifically Marie’s story and less of the goings on of the Revolution. However, it is conversely possible to argue the opposite – in consequence of the fact that this is essentially Marie’s story, quite a number of the events of the Revolution which she is not present at are related to her secondhand, and even the events she is at still feel like they are missing the sense of epic scale that I would expect from a novel about the Revolution. This was clearly a balancing act, but for me Moran managed to get it just about right. I would have liked a novel about the French Revolution to be rather more epic in scale, to convey the full drama, horror, and importance of events... but this wasn’t a novel about the French Revolution so much as Marie’s story, and although Marie gets caught up with the various events and movers and shakers, she’s still just an ordinary person trying to scrape a living and keep her family safe. That her story felt cosy and insular and not so much epic in scope was right for the story, and though some events are related to her secondhand, they are described in enough detail, and delivered mere hours after events, still close enough to inject some sense of risk and tension. For certain, it’s better than having a first person novel, realising you’ve painted yourself into a corner over how to depict events that your chosen character was not attendant upon, and then deciding to randomly slip into third person for one or two pages whenever it’s handy (again, Philippa Gregory). This way it did feel very much like we’re with Marie throughout. The writing wasn't absolutely scintillating stuff, but the story was interesting enough to keep me tripping along and reading to the end. Speaking of which, the end was a little bit of a bum note. (view spoiler)

I quite liked Marie’s "voice". Slight hint of self-involvement and singular incident of callousness aside, I liked her character. She’s a mature woman (unlike precious precocious princesses 12 year old Mary Sue Nefertari or Kleopatra Selene!), and she’s ordinary; her only skills and talents are wax modelling and a head for business, though even then the Salon depends on a good deal of luck to make ends meet. She’s also practical and reasonably intelligent, and even better she is more concerned with pursuing her own career and happiness than marrying – her happiness does not solely depend upon her romantic interest, and unlike some of Moran’s previous novels, the plot does not revolve around how Marie must marry to be happy or learn to please her husband in order to get ahead or for him to trust her. The story definitely felt like it was meatier than Moran’s previous efforts. Maybe that’s because the choice of period is so much closer to our own time and thus Moran had more material to draw upon, or maybe it’s because the Revolution was a time jam-packed with momentous events and interesting people, but I’m going to be generous and say it was probably a combination of that and Moran’s improvements as a writer.

Although I strongly disliked Moran’s previous three books set in Ancient Egypt, each one was a tiny bit better than the last, and I do have to say that Madame Tussaud is a noticeable improvement on Cleopatra’s Daughter. Dare I say it? I actually enjoyed this book. There was nothing in it that gave me rage; there were niggles and it was lacking in certain respects but in no place was it really bad; I liked Marie as a character – and the protagonist was a real, identifiable, likable character, not just a cardboard cut out or a Mary Sue – and once the Revolution got going things began to really heat up and I wanted to continue reading and see how it would end. I’m not saying I'm going to move Moran from my only-from-the-library list to my autobuy list, but if I had been given this as a gift I would be perfectly happy to have it sitting on my bookshelf and give it a re-read at some point.

5 out of 10. All in all, a fairly interesting and enjoyable book, with just enough historical accuracy to make it passable, and a good dose of a decent character and a meaty plot.
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Reading Progress

February 13, 2011 – Shelved
April 5, 2011 –
page 0
0.0% "Library has ready for pickup. Will be starting today or tomorrow."
April 12, 2011 –
page 0
0.0% "Book has been "in transit" from a library just 1.5 miles away since five days ago! I am not happy. How flipping long does it take to deliver a book from one library to another with a distance of just 1.5 miles?!"
April 19, 2011 –
page 0
0.0% "Interesting. Book that was "in transit" to my library from another library nearby is now suddenly listed as "on loan" from the original library it was coming from."
April 21, 2011 –
page 0
0.0% "Library finally get back to me today with many MANY apologies, but someone apparently picked the book up off the "Reserved" shelf in the library it was coming from, and checked it out on loan. I am not happy."
May 8, 2011 –
page 0
0.0% "At last. The person who took the book reserved for me finally returned it today, the due date, and the book is now registered as being back on the reserve shelf, and in transit. Then again, as my father said, we've heard that before. Wait and see if it actually arrives, or if, like last time, someone will simply take it, reserved or not."
May 9, 2011 – Started Reading
May 9, 2011 –
page 1
0.23% "It's a miracle - I finally have my hands on the book!"
May 10, 2011 –
page 20
4.63% "We've already had a big clunky exposition scene about the Third Estate. Takes me right back to A Level History - we did The French Revolution as a module, so this is all highly familiar territory."
May 11, 2011 –
page 50
11.57% ""The queen is not allowed to reach for anything herself. If she wants water, it must be fetched by the dame d'honneur... And if the dame d'honneur isn't present... then she goes thirsty.""
May 11, 2011 –
page 99
May 12, 2011 –
page 115
26.62% ""When the Gardes Francaises arrived, the rioters climbed onto the rooftops and began to hurl tiles at the king's men. So the Gardes fired into the crowd. Five hundred are dead, at least.""
May 12, 2011 –
page 134
May 13, 2011 –
page 161
May 13, 2011 –
page 169
May 14, 2011 –
page 187
43.29% ""The king's soldier's are actually in retreat! It's an unbelievable turn of events. It means the Third Estate has its own army, and they are defeating the Royal German Regiment.""
May 14, 2011 –
page 199
May 14, 2011 –
page 237
54.86% ""The people will know that you are a true patriot.""
May 14, 2011 –
page 286
66.2% ""I am in the workshop when I hear the news that the great voice of the Revolution has passed... the man who was only recently made president of the National Assembly.""
May 14, 2011 –
page 301
69.68% ""The king has signed the Constitution into law this morning. France is to be a constitutional monarchy, with an assembly that will share power with the king... The rejoicing in the streets has already begun.""
May 14, 2011 –
page 364
84.26% ""A historic day," he says. It's impossible to know exactly what he means, whether he is for the king's death today or against it. No one gives their opinion now."
May 14, 2011 –
page 397
91.9% ""Robespierre preached against despots, and now he has become one himself.""
May 14, 2011 – Finished Reading
May 19, 2011 – Shelved as: revolution-age-1650-to-1837ce-ficti

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