Four stars, read January 2011.
I had mixed feelings about Madame Tussaud, which I read as an ARC from a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. The story was riveting, and I didn’t want to put it down once I’d gotten into it, but that was probably mostly the subject matter. The story of the French Revolution is fascinating and absolutely horrifying, and now that I’ve read it, this novel represents the bulk of my knowledge about that subject. So that was a huge draw for me.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing. Stylistically it’s choppy, with a lot of sentence fragments, and certain aspects of the story progress pretty abruptly. The storyline of the revolution flows well because it’s full of historical details, but Marie’s love story happens in lurches—on one page he’s just a neighbor to whom she’s attracted, and then suddenly he’s kissing her neck and telling her he wants to marry her. (That’s not really a spoiler, so don’t worry about it. There may be some mild ones later on, though, so now you may consider yourselves warned.) It felt like there were big gaps in the conversations, where things should have been said in order for it to make sense, which made much of the dialogue not very believable.
I also found the protagonist difficult to like, which is rough on any book. Since Madame Tussaud was a real person, I can’t say whether this is the author’s fault—I don’t know what she was like, and it may be that Moran has simply described her as she was. But I find it hard to love a character whose primary concern in literally every single situation is the welfare of her business—not because her business is struggling and she fears for its survival, but because she is obsessed with profits and her “ambition,” which she talks about constantly. Her business is actually incredibly successful from the beginning and only gets more so as the revolution progresses, yet time after time, Marie makes painful sacrifices in her personal life because “the needs of the Salon come first.” I found it hard to identify with a character who, when surrounded by such awful political turmoil and violence, still values her business above everything else.
Complaints aside, I really did enjoy the book, and the story was truly incredible. Much of the historical information was accurate, according to the note in the back, which is something I value highly in historical fiction—but readers should be warned that this means there are several descriptions of pretty graphic violence. Overall I enjoyed the experience immensely, and was thrilled to be able to read it before publication. If you’re at all interested in historical fiction, I definitely recommend it.