Marie Grosholtz is a smart, ambitious young wax sculptor who will one day become the famous Madame Tussaud. Mademoiselle Grosholtz works alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire, which houses her popular model of the American ambassador Thomas Jefferson, a tableau of the royal family at dinner and a model of Madame du Barry amongst others – Marie’s museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip and politics. Upon a visit from the royal family, the King’s sister requests Marie’s presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting – an offer that Marie knows that she cannot refuse. Set in a time of unrest and revolution and through the Reign of Terror, Moran brings to life the reality of revolution and the woman who through her talents, saved her own life and preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom.
I am a huge fan of Michelle Moran’s work. I fell in love with her writing style and storytelling with “Nefertiti” and again with “The Heretic Queen”. When I found out that she was leaving the ancient world and moving to not-so ancient history I went through a small panic – would this book be as good as the others? Will she be able to write about a different time and place with such ease? The answer to both questions was thankfully a resounding “yes!” I have a soft spot for anything about the French Revolution – I love that period in France and the craziness that surrounds it. Moran is able to carefully tread the bloody path from revolution to Reign of Terror without losing the reader and explaining the rapidly changing and complicated politics. Moran also brings to life the Salon de Cire and the wax figures and people who called it home. Once again, Moran excels at writing – adding details about the setting, the fashions, the atmosphere, etc., without it taking away from the story at hand.
One of the few complaints that I have about this novel was the portrayal of Marie – she is portrayed as being cold, unemotional and concerned only about her career and making money. Although there is someone who is deeply in love with her and who wants to marry her, Marie wants nothing of it and uses her career and her shop as an excuse – even when times are desperate she still chooses her shop over love. Although I commend her for sticking with her career and not giving in to the traditions of her time, I still find this hard to believe to be exactly what happened given the time period. I also feel like the ending was rushed – the novel itself covered a span of five years throughout the revolution and Reign of Terror, but the latter years of Marie’s life were crammed into a few pages. This leads me to my final problem with this novel: the title. I think that it was a bit misleading naming the novel Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution considering the title character did not become Madame Tussaud until the end of the story. I don't think that the book needed the pull of the name "Madame Tussaud", I believe that it would have done just as well with a different name. While I loved reading about her life during the revolution, I would have also liked to have read about her life in London . . . a potential sequel maybe? Overall it was a fantastic book about the French Revolution and I would definitely recommend it!