Lo Reads! Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund

5 01 2010

The people who win are usually the ones who get to write history. Unfortunately for French bourgeoisie and royalty in the 18th century, they lost. Big time. My interest in the last queen of France started a few years ago when I forced myself to watch Sofia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette because they used one of my favorite Siouxsie and the Banshees songs. It stars Kirsten Dunst, who I don’t hate as much as ol’ squinty eyed Renee Zellweger, but I would still rather go to the dentist than watch on film. So imagine my surprise when I not only DIDN’T hate it, but actually found myself liking Kirsten’s Marie Antoinette and (gasp!) sympathizing with her character. Fast forward to a few months ago when El made me start watching The Tudors on Showtime, and I found myself in the midst of royal fever (similar to Night Fever, but not as deadly).

ANYWAY. Naslund paints a pretty decent picture of the poor queen, who, as historians have come to understand, was given the shit end of the stick at the end of her life as well as in the afterlife. She never said “Let them eat cake” and nursed (or at least wanted to nurse) her own kids. She was sympathetic to the poor and, at least according to Naslund, she and the king were trying really hard to make their rich friends pay taxes. I don’t know about the historical accuracy of this novel – it is, after all, historical fiction, but the author does a pretty good job of making this a believable story. Naslund uses beautiful, subtle sentences to weave the strange life of the aforementioned queen from a first person perspective, so it takes on a journal-like quality. It focuses on her relationship with Louis XVII, with whom she had for many years an unconsummated marriage until they finally figured it out (it = doing it), as well as her role as a mother not only to her children, but to France. Throughout these main plot points, Naslund also paints a backdrop of pre-Revolutionary France, told from the point of view of whom it affected the most. She makes a point several times to say how fickle the people of France are, ready at the drop of the hat to applaud the queen and her children and then seconds later, damn her for having orgies or affairs with men and women (none of these claims have ever been substantiated).

I totally recommend this book to anyone looking for a historical novel to read. The French Revolution is something that is discussed in, say, 9th grade history classes, but is often glossed over. It was brutal, terrifying, and extreme at every level. If nothing else, it will definitely give you a different perspective on something we as Americans are quick to applaud, since our whole Revolution was based on ousting ourselves from the clutches of the crown. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go nerd it up and research the shit out of European royalty.

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