Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review: The Queen's Lover: A Novel, by Francine Du Plessix Gray (Penguin, 2012)

For ages 14 and up

I have long been fascinated by Marie Antoinette and her family, an interest dating back to when I was around 12 years old.  I was therefore really looking forward to reading this new novel about Count Fersen, who was perhaps the secret love of Marie Antoinette's life and the architect of the failed escape plan to Varennes, after which the royal family was captured and imprisoned in Paris. However, I found this entire novel a huge disappointment.  The story is told in the first person by Fersen himself, as a sort of memoir, with other parts narrated by his sister when it was inconvenient to have Fersen himself narrate.  

The novel added little to my knowledge or understanding of these important historical figures.  Moreover, I didn't feel the author captured any real chemistry between Fersen and Marie Antoinette.  There are some very racy sex scenes with the two of them which frankly I found very distasteful--it gave me a feeling of being a voyeur at the scene which rather than being titillating seemed simply tacky. In addition, Fersen comes across as a very unpleasant person--it was hard to even empathize when he himself is beaten to death by an anti-royalist crowd in Sweden some years later. The book was clearly carefully researched, with the author using primary sources, but the way the author incorporated actual parts of letters written by Fersen and others made the book very awkward--was she trying to write a novel, a biography, or a history book? It seems like she couldn't decide, and it's a messy melange that doesn't work well. If you want to read about Marie Antoinette, check out instead Abundance, by Sena Jeter Naslund, a much better novel, or Queen of Fashion, an excellent nonfiction biography by historian Caroline Weber.

Marie Antoinette, by court painter Vigee-LeBrun


PragmaticMom said...

Bummer, I like historical fiction about Marie Antoinette too! Glad I read your review!

Marg said...

I remember being shocked at the racy scenes when they kind of just popped into the text because there was no indication leading up to them that there was going to be that kind of feel to the book.