Madame Tussaud, by Michelle Moran
This book came to me highly recommended. For that reason, and because I found the cover photograph annoying, I was prepared to dislike this book. So often books that receive such high praise just don't quite live up to the hype, in my opinion. This turned out to be a very pleasant exception.
Madame Tussaud begins shortly before the French Revolution begins and takes the reader through the twists and turns of French history in that turbulent period, focusing on the seemingly contradictory and always dangerous actions that Madame (for most of the story Madamoiselle) and her family must take in order to keep their business afloat and, ultimately, to keep their heads as events spiral out of control.
There were very many things to love about this book. The story itself is compelling and quickly draws you in. Once drawn in, it gradually increases the pace of events, keeping pace with the events it is describing, keeping you turning the pages ever more quickly to find out what happens next. The characterization of the primary characters was well done, allowing the reader to quickly become attached to Madame and her family and to really care about what happened to them and to the royal family. The author did a fantastic job of conveying the fear and paranoia and insularity of the times through her writing, so that the reader actually felt what it was like to be living in that place and period. She also did a lovely job of portraying the horror and overall bloodiness of the time without ever descending into outright gore or getting too horrifying in detail. There was enough description to leave the reader fully aware of the horror of the events without feeling disgusted or grossed out. The author also managed to provide just enough details about the wax molding craft to enlighten and fascinate, without boring or losing the reader.
Some minor quibbles I have: first there were a number of typos that I would have liked to see fixed. Specifically, on perhaps a dozen occasions a word would be left out of a sentence. It wasn't enough to keep you from being able to understand what was intended to be said, but it was enough to be jarring as the reader was forced to pull back from immersion in the story to make sense of an incomplete sentence. Also, major players in the revolution were introduced to the reader with not so much as a word about who they were or background to allow the reader to appreciate their coming importance. Perhaps that was intentional, as nobodies became somebodies overnight, then fell from grace just as quickly. However, it did leave me feeling as though I might have appreciated the story a bit more had I known more about the history of the revolution before reading this book. Finally, and perhaps this is just me being silly, but I detested the cover artwork. The model is not the prettiest sort, and certainly did not create any fond or favorable feelings in me toward Madame at first viewing. The clothing looks cheap and costumey, rather than appearing authentic, probably because of the materials of which it is constructed which have nothing of the luxuriousness generally associated with the period. I do understand that Madame and her family were not wealthy, particularly at the beginning of the story. A little more attempt at luxurious dress for the model, however, would have helped capture the period a little better. And then there were the model's hands. A more ugly pair of hands I don't know if I've ever seen. I don't find dirty hands -- hands stained from work -- to be unappealing. But these hands were neither elegant nor work-roughened. They were just ugly. Somehow this really bugged me. Silly, I know, but there you have it.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it quite highly. I would give it a 4.5 out of 5, because although suffering a few flaws, it was good enough to overcome those flaws and leave me wanting more.