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Abundance: A Novel Of Marie Antoinette (2006)

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette (2006)
Rating
3.7 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
0060825391 (ISBN13: 9780060825393)
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English
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publisher
william morrow
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Abundance: A Novel Of Marie Antoinett...
Abundance: A Novel Of Marie Antoinette (2006)

About book: This was a novel about the life of Marie Antoinette from the time she arrived in France as the fourteen year old Austrian betrothed to the Dauphin, to her death by guillotine after being found guilty of high treason during the French Revolution in 1793. For those curious, this is definitely in the historical fiction genre, not historical romance. French history has always fascinated me. I visited both Versailles and the Conciergerie prison in the 1990s while in France, and it’s fun for me to try to imagine Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI living their lives of decadence during the turbulent period near the end of the 18th century in French history. This is the type of novel that makes you question how accurate the portrayal of Marie Antoinette is in most texts. Was she really a callous, opulent woman who had numerous affairs and was unfeeling toward the hungry citizens in France? Or, was she a devoutly religious and misunderstood mother who deeply mourned her husband’s death and loved her children above all else?In some ways, this novel reminded me of the 2006 movie made by Sophia Coppola about Marie Antoinette, though it is definitely more subdued than the movie and more concerned with the historical aspects of her life. There are shades of narrative to show how misrepresented Marie Antoinette was historically. As an example, we see Marie astounded by people writing that she crawled into the bushes for sexcapades during a party, how she had lesbian relations with other women, her participation in drunken orgies, and even incest with her own young son. The book also has some interesting tidbits into some of Marie’s more extravagant behavior during her reign, such as her gambling habits. Perhaps the most interesting glimpse into her life is the story of why it took so long for her to conceive a royal heir for France. I thought that Marie Antoinette’s brother’s letter describing why Louis XVI refused to finish the job was quite amusing. Of course, as with most historical fiction, it’s difficult to know how much is historically accurate and how much is just sensationalized fiction. Usually I will read a historical fiction novel for intrigue, but this one wasn’t one written for scandalous storyline the way some I’ve read were. It was a simple retelling of Marie Antoinette’s slow fall from positive public opinion during her time in France. It portrays Marie Antoinette as less of an unfeeling, stoic figure than some people’s conception of her. I felt like the author wanted to humanize Marie Antoinette, perhaps to make the reader feel more compassion for her character than she typically receives in history textbooks. That being said, I imagine that some readers will find this book tedious to read. The ending gets more exciting, certainly. The mob arrives near the end with pikes with entrails, a heart, and the head of a princess who is considered Marie Antoinette’s alleged lover. Did the mob really take the princess’ decapitated head to a hairdresser in its post-mortem state? Or, the mad man sitting underneath the plank that holds the guillotine, hoping to bathe in Marie Antoinette’s blod. Ewwww. Despite the engrossing ending, I still feel like your enjoyment of this novel will depend on whether you are already interested in the French Revolution before you read.I admit, one passage from the novel did make me roll my eyes: “With renewed patience, and with the confidence only a just man who has taken the course dictated by conscience can assume, the King speaks with the government: the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker.” (listened to audiobook… forgive my punctuation if it doesn’t match the novel text exactly)

What I knew about Marie Antoinette before reading this book (spoilers ahead if you don't know anything at all about her): She was married to Louis XVI, she said "Let them eat cake," she was queen during the French Revolution, and (possible spoiler here)-------------------------she was beheaded. That was it. Three out of four isn't bad. She never actually said "Let them eat cake." According to the author, it was the wife of Louis XIV, two generations earlier, who said that. So, if you ever win tons of money on Jeopardy for knowing the correct question to this answer, I expect a small slice of the pie for enlightening you on that point. :-)Okay, seriously, I'm avoiding writing this review, because I'm not going to do the book justice. The whole appeal is how Marie Antoinette just came to life in these pages for me. So she was a real person--it's hard to make characters seem this real, whether they're historical figures or not. In fact, it might be harder when most people just have a vision of a thoughtless queen who wasted money while her people starved. But she was so complex, I just can't even begin to spell it out. I didn't always like her, but she was always real, and I could see how some of what happened was her fault, but some things were beyond her control.I got to the last section, during the revolution, and found myself wanting to drag my feet through it and avoid the unavoidable. But I wanted to see exactly what happened, and Sena Jeter Naslund's writing style is just beautiful to me, so I found myself actually racing through it. And she handled the ending beautifully. I should never have doubted her. The wild emotions going through Marie Antoinette, the disbelief, avoidance, everything just seemed authentic. I guess we can't really know what was going on in her mind, but I can buy this version.I have to say that Sena Jeter Naslund is a beautiful, beautiful writer, but what really impressed me was her foreshadowing in this book. It could have been all clunky, clumsy, and obvious, but instead it was very delicate and deft, and every time I picked up on something, I found myself thinking something along the lines of, "Oh, you are good, Ms. Naslund. Hats off to your artistry."So, I highly, highly recommend this book. I can't believe I let it languish at the bottom of my "borrowed-to-read" pile of books for so long. Don't you do the same.
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Reviews
Elena
When "Abundance: A Novel of Marie-Antoinette" by Sena Jeter Naslund first debuted, it was difficult for readers of "Trianon" not to make comparisons. The two novels, however, should not be compared, since "Abundance" is an epic approach to Marie-Antoinette's life, entirely in the diary/memoir format. "Trianon," on the other hand, focuses upon how each member of the royal family faces death and loss, as well as the underlying spiritual struggles in the country, in the court and in the hearts of the protagonists."Trianon" is told from several points of view, not just from the queen's, so that the reader can get a sense of what was going on in politics, in Paris, in the prison, etc. It is difficult to limit oneself just to Marie-Antoinette's perspective, although Victoria Holt did it masterfully. In "Abundance," Marie-Antoinette comes across as intensely self-absorbed and introspective, albeit sweet and loving.I did think it interesting how Dr. Naslund chose, as I did in "Trianon," to use the passing on of a rose as a symbol of the relationship between Marie-Antoinette and her sister-in-law Madame Elisabeth. The author of "Abundance" likewise constructed a scene of the queen being painted by Madame le Brun, which is how "Trianon" begins. In "Trianon," it was intended as a way to convey to the reader that the story about to unfold was a living portrait of the queen, beginning with surface qualities but journeying into the depths of the soul. Dr. Naslund's novel has a much different emphasis.I admire very much that Dr. Naslund did not give into the temptation to portray the queen as having a sexual affair with Count Fersen. She obviously did her homework and found that there is no proof a liaison. She depicts Marie-Antoinette as having a platonic love for the Count, never consummated, with the queen always putting her husband and children first. I did think it a little inaccurate to have Marie-Antoinette wrapped in Fersen fantasies while awaiting death, when from the queen's own hand we know that she was preoccupied with the torments her little son was enduring, as well as with the misery of the other members of her family.For that matter, even before the dark days of the Revolution, Marie-Antoinette's letters contain barely a mention of Fersen. Rather, she is full of advice on matters of health, preoccupied with her husband, her children, her adopted children and the Polignac family. During the Revolution she was taken up with politics. When she did write to Count Fersen, it was about the dire situation of her family and the Count was one of the only people able to help. All in all, she was an outgoing lady and, although she enjoyed her hours of solitude, she was not always given to deep reflection. The insistence of authors to write novels about her in the introspective diary format is becoming old hat.Although the Marie-Antoinette of "Abundance" is lovely, chaste soul, she is an insipid one. Her personality does not expand and rise to the heights of heroism and martyrdom as the testimony of her actual letters bears witness that she did. She is shown as sweet but clueless; we know from her private correspondence that although Marie-Antoinette was sweet she was not saccharine and she was anything but clueless.Nevertheless, I commend Dr. Naslund for her efforts and for her attempts at an honest rather than a sensationalist portrait of the Queen of France. The novel is loaded with details about life at Versailles, and with actual portions of Marie-Antoinette's letters. Those interested in the ancien-regime can glean a great deal of information from this book.
Michele
A novel told from the perspective of Marie Antoinette, this sympathetic portrait paints the French queen as a naive but well-meaning young girl who is completely unaware of her responsibilities and the consequences of her innocent actions.Novels about Marie Antoinette seem to fall into one of two camps: either they portray her as an innocent or a serpent. The truth, as usual, probably lies somewhere in between. It is up to you to read as much as you can and then make up your own mind. This novel, with that in mind, is well worth reading. The court descriptions are rich in detail, but never tedious or detracting from the story. Marie herself comes across as a bit simpering, though, and there are times you want to just give the girl a good shake and tell her to "wake up!." Aside from that, it is an enjoyable read and a nice departure from the swamp of Tudor England novels out there.
Tisha
I quite enjoyed this story. Abundance is told from the perspective of Marie herself. Her personality is clear, as is that of the Dauphin... so I really got to know the characters. I didn't feel bogged down with details, yet was able to easily picture the settings and the times.Naslund tells her story from the day she leaves Austria to become the Dauphine at age 14 to her death. It is fascinating seeing her change from a young noble girl...to a dauphine...to a queen. Her personality changes so much..and the way she justifies her "greed" and extravagances in the story is quite amusing. The book captures not only the change in the Queen through the years, but also the change in the publics opinion of her. From the much loved young girl, to the spend-happy, much gossiped about Queen losing popularity, and finally to the executed Queen. The beautiful setting of Versailles is the icing on the cake! I found myself flying through the final pages in suspense. Suspense...in a history book where I already know what happens! Naslund completely sucks the reader into the tension and anxiety of the queens final year.I was just at Chateau Versailles last month, so I can picture it all perfectly.
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