Monday, October 8, 2012

Book Review: Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

Why must it be me? I wondered. When I am so clearly inadequate to my destiny?

Raised alongside her numerous brothers and sisters by the formidable empress of Austria, ten-year-old Maria Antonia knew that her idyllic existence would one day be sacrificed to her mother's political ambitions. What she never anticipated was that the day in question would come so soon.

Before she can journey from sunlit picnics with her sisters in Vienna to the glitter, glamour, and gossip of Versailles, Antonia must change everything about herself in order to be accepted as dauphine of France and the wife of the awkward teenage boy who will one day be Louis XVI. Yet nothing can prepare her for the ingenuity and influence it will take to become queen.

Filled with smart history, treacherous rivalries, lavish clothes, and sparkling jewels, Becoming Marie Antoinette will utterly captivate fiction and history lovers alike.

Synopsis courtesy of

My Review

3 Stars

Becoming Marie Antoinette, the first novel in a planned trilogy about the infamous French Queen, follows the life of the title character from her late childhood in her native Austria to the day of her accession to the French throne as the consort Louis XVI.  

It is evident right from outset that a significant amount of research went into the writing of this novel, and that the author took great care to ensure historical accuracy.  This research, in combination with Juliet Grey's often eloquent prose, results in the Austrian and French courts coming vividly to life for the reader.  It also serves to highlight the incredible differences between life in an Austrian palace and that of life at Versailles.  Indeed, the presentation of life at Versailles in particular is one of the novel's greatest strengths.  Another strength is Grey's sympathetic  characterization of Marie Antoinette, who is portrayed as a charming young woman who, in spite of years of preparation for her role as dauphine, is quite unprepared for life within the Bourbon court.   I also enjoyed the brief glimpses into the mind of Empress Maria Therese of Austria, which were showcased through the letters she wrote to her daughter. 

While acknowledging that many of the reviews I have read for this novel have found little if anything to criticize, I had a number of issues with it.  While I generally prefer detailed works of historical fiction to more cursory novels, I don't overly enjoy books that contain exhaustive amounts of detail that add little to a story.  Unfortunately, Becoming Marie Antoinette is an example of a novel containing too much detail.   In fact, there were several instances were it seemed Grey was simply trying to fit in every last piece of her research (the scene in which Marie Antoinette is having her braces affixed immediately comes to mind).   As a result, even though I liked Grey's writing style, this book failed to captivate me.   I think the book would have been better if Grey had spent more time detailing the goings on of the day and less on extensive accounts of what the characters were wearing or how they arranged their hair.   It is my hope that the second novel in the trilogy (Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow -- check back here on October 24th to read my review) will better suit my tastes. 

Recommended to fans of historical fiction interested in the early life of Marie Antoinette and those who enjoy considerable historical detail. 

Note: This novel comes from my own personal collection.