Monday, June 9, 2008

Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund

Sena Jeter Naslund
Harper Perennial
592 pages

Like everyone, I am born naked.
~ First sentence, An Island In the Rhine River, May 1770, Abundance ~

Marie Antoinette was a child of fourteen when her mother, the Empress of Austria, arranged for her to leave her family and her country to become the wife of the fifteen-year-old Dauphin, the future King of France. Coming of age in the most public of arenas she warmly embraces her adopted nation and it's citizens. She shows her new husband nothing but love and encouragement, though he repeatedly fails to consummate their marriage and in so doing is unable to give what she and the people of France desire most: a child and heir to throne. Deeply disappointed and isolated in her own intimate circle, and apart from the social life of the court, she allows herself to remain ignorant of the country's growing economic and political crises, even as poor harvests, bitter winters, war debts, and poverty precipitate rebellion and revenge. The young queen, once beloved by the common folk, becomes a target of scorn, cruelty, and hatred as she, the court's nobles, and the rest of the royal family are caught up in the nightmarish violence of a murderous time called "the Terror."

This book had been languishing in my TBR pile and reading it was motivated by an offer of book about her daughter's life, Marie-Therese by Susan Nagel, that I'm receiving from Authors On The Web. I had read one other book about her life, The Hidden Diary of Maria Antoinette by Carolly Erickson, and a felt a bit of a refresher was needed. Overall, I felt, this book was a bit disappointing. It's written first person, diary-style, and I never really did adapt to the voice the author used for Maria Antoinette. The voice of the child she is when we start the book carries through until the royal family is forced to flee for their lives and the subsequent imprisonment and deaths of the King and Queen. Marie Antoinette never quites achieves adulthood in this book, and the country's troubles and unrest, are glossed over until it is too late. Once the royal family realizes that their days of power are numbered this book picks up speed and becomes an interesting read. You finally start to get a sense of the unrest in France and begin to understand the motivations of the common people to want to bring down the royal family. While I felt for the her children and the citizens of France I never did feel pity for the Queen.

If you're looking for a light overview of the her life and times then this book might appeal to you. If you're wanting somethinga bit more serious and in-depth this might not be your first choice.

1 Comment:

SheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I posted a review of this just last week. I also struggled with the first-person voice, but I did find that she (the Marie-Anoinette/narrator) matured as the book moved along (and once she stopped whining about the marriage not being consummated!!)
You were smart to piggy-back this into your reading of another book from the time period -- good planning!

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