Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette - Carolly Erickson

The cover opposite is not the same as the copy I have but I prefer this one, especially the dress. This book...I have never seen it before in shops. Merely, I'm not looking in the right place or they don't sell it in England as my copy is a US edition.
In May, my best friend gave me a paper bag full of five books in return for three of my own to read. She finished mine very quickly but I, being the book blogger of the pair of us, haven't finished her selection. Yet. This is the second to last one and after being confused about what book to pick from my to-reads, I chose this because...I feel bad I haven't read it yet for her.
I have always been interested in the French Revolution knowing few details behind the event. Most of what I learn was from Sally Garner's series that featured The Red Necklace and The Silver Blade that was set at this time. So apart from the basics and loosely knowing who Marie Antoinette was (I mean, who hasn't heard of her?!), I had completely no idea.

Synopsis: On the night before she dies, one famous lady leaves an old diary that charts her years from youth in Vienna, being mistress of Versailles and Queen of France, and then, her downfall of the bloody, humiliating French Revolution. This book the events that led to Marie Antoinette's death from being an innocent, young girl.

Truth: The book is all around the life of Marie Antoinette who was the last Queen of France. She was renowned for her over spending on clothes, furnishings and jewels, as well as her many lovers. In 1789, the French people started to rise up against the aristocracy in France for this over spending while doing nothing for the country. Soon the Crown has no money and Marie Antoinette and her family were living in poverty themselves. In 1793, the Parisians had had enough and abolished the role of King, forming a new council to run the country, much like Parliament in England. This led to thousands of aristocrats being killed and latterly, the King himself and Marie Antoinette. She was killed via the guillotine on 16th October 1793, two weeks away from her 38th birthday.


Review: Any reader of this book will feel a variety of emotions when reading. It is heartbreaking, funny, enjoyable, disgusting and disturbing within a few hundred pages - but that's just the start of this book.

When I was forced told to read this by my friend, I was a little bit wary. It looked like it would be one of those boring, lecturing books which drone on and on about a newly discovered diary by a group of professors. WRONG.
This book is a personal, imaginative account of the life of Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France from her teenage years to her death. It's quite amazing really how the book covers so much time within just under 400 pages. This is due to the fact that, blimey, she didn't keep a continuous, daily diary and this annoyed me. We would be going along, her apparently pregnant and then suddenly, its 6 months later and she's rattling on about something that to me HAS NOT HAPPENED IN THIS BOOK. I understand that you need to cover the whole time but I think it would have been better to maybe cover the last 15 years of her life maybe or the period of the French Revolution.

As it is in diary form, this book feels quite intimate and I did feel like I was getting to know another version of the Marie Antoinette I had learnt about. We always see her as this horrible, selfish, spoilt figure but this book showed me that, yes she is all these things in some sense, but also she has to be because she is the Queen. I saw this more innocent side to her where she is forced for seven years to try and have a child. We see the utter love she has for her children, two of which died before herself. We see the desperation she has when the heir to the throne is seriously ill and her complete devastation when she finds out her miscarriage was a boy. It really does show another, realistic side to this women, one I think I believe more.
The French Revolution, at least here in England, is seen as a good thing, although bloody - it was needed to save France itself. But again, this book turns that conception on its head, showing that they were literally doing all they could to save their people.

Carolly Erickson describes this novel as 'historical entertainment' which is exactly that. I remember in the acknowledgements at the end of 'I was Jane Austen's Best Friend', Cora Harrison said that she always wonders if a historical book based on real people is entirely true. This was my thought in this one. Sadly, a fair chuck of the events we read about in this book are made up - the author's imagination, as well as some of the characters - obviously the main ones were real people. This is a shame really, this could be a brilliant different interpretation of Marie Antoinette's life but it makes me think that the things that I deem her not as bad as she is mostly perceived, such as giving out bread at the gates of Versailles, weren't real actions. They may be but this has cast doubt in my mind. For me, if you're writing about someone like Marie Antoinette, you need to keep to the truth for the whole time, mostly, especially if they're the protagonist!

The writing was fluent and easy to read. I did enjoy her writing and the vivid descriptions of what was happening around her, this book does make that ultimate connection with the reader and Marie Antoinette, I did get to learn a lot about her, whether it is true. The lady herself was an interesting voice and her views and thoughts changed interestingly throughout the book, especially when she turned into  a 'woman' once she was married. I really got a feel for the life she was living.
The characters themselves showed a lot and I can see why the monarchy failed to help the French - they literally had no idea what their life was like. There is always that character you want to hit with a fish. That is Amelie in this book. I do not get this woman. One minute she is all over the Queen and then the next trying to get her killed - all because she was friends with Amelie's husband?! She just started to annoy me so much, especially with Marie Antoinette whining on about her yet not doing anything about it. What do you expect?

Overall, this book is unique and provides another viewpoint on an important, historical figure that has been known for centries. This book made me appreciate her more and the monarchy in general. I understand the reasons for the French Revolutation and while few true events are included, it was refreshing to have this major historical event from the monarchy's eyes. This book is very graphic in places on gore and blood and a horrible description latterly of one of Marie's trusted friends being killed - I felt very sick afterwards. This book is not for the faint hearted or those who are obsessed with historical accuracy. This is a good book - just not amazing.
Verdict: For older readers who have an interest in this period of history and want to find out more. This is not a critical look at her life but a finally positive portrayal of this interesting lady.

I give it a 3.5 out of 5

Author's Website: http://us.macmillan.com/author/carollyerickson
Pages: 341
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffen
Challenges: Historical Fiction

Try also for details on the French Revolution:
- The French Revolution Series by Sally Gardner (The Red Necklace, The Silver Blade)
- Book #3, Den of Thieves, in the Cat Royal series by Julia Golding

1 comment:

  1. I love history, I love good books, I'm glad I bought this book. The reader is very pleasant. Highly recommend.

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