Summary and book reviews of Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

Farewell, My Queen

By Chantal Thomas

Farewell, My Queen
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2003,
    248 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2004,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

A woman whose function it once was to read books aloud to Marie-Antoinette is haunted by the memory of her last days at the French court of Versailles, when Louis XVI's magnificent palace succumbed to the irrepressible forces of revolution. Now exiled in Vienna, Madame Agathe-Sidonie Laborde looks back twenty-one years to the legendary opulence of Versailles and, overcome with nostalgia and remorse, discovers the full measure of her fascination with the Queen she served.

Transporting us to eighteenth-century France with the skill of a consummate storyteller, Chantal Thomas meticulously re-creates the miniature universe of Versailles, brilliantly juxtaposing its beauty and its dawn-to-dusk ritual with the chaos that erupts. Her portrait of Versailles and of Marie-Antoinette is an incomparable account of the collapse of a lost world.

Translated by Moishe Black.

Prologue
Vienna, February 12, 1810

My name is Agathe-Sidonie Laborde, a name rarely spoken, almost a secret. I live in the émigré quarter of Vienna, in an apartment on Grashof Street. Its windows open above a paved inner courtyard surrounded at ground level by a number of shops: a second-hand bookshop, a wig maker's, a small printshop, a tailor's. There is also a spice seller's stall, just at the foot of my apartment building. A lively neighborhood, but not too noisy. In the summertime, along with Eastern aromas, there are always notes of music floating in the air. The rosebushes winding their way up the building fronts add a garden charm to this little corner of Vienna. But in the dead of winter, which is what we have at present, the rosebushes have ceased to bloom and the sounds of life from the shops no longer reach me. For me, in a general way, the sounds of life are well and truly stilled, whatever the season. It's as though the terrible winter around...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
The New York Times Book Review

...delightful historical novel...Thomas is a historian specializing in 18th century France, and she knows her subject...In language both vivid and elegant, the novel also captures the mood of panic that soon had servants and soldiers felling their posts, and nobles, clergy and hangers-on looking to save their skins...rich tableau vivant.

Orlando Sentinel

...illuminating first novel...meticulous detail...Nuance, vitality and glints of humor...Thomas' thorough research and her compassion for her subject not only imbue the novel with remarkable authenticity, but also render it a memorable billet-doux to a bygone France.

Christian Science Monitor

Madame Laborde begins determined to defend her beloved mistress against 'a campaign of propaganda tending to stigmatize Versailles as a bottomless pit of needless expenses.' At that impossible task, her testimony fails completely, but as a record of the way people react - or fail to react - to changes that threaten their lifestyle, this little book is an unsettling success.

The Washington Post Book World

...elegant powerful novel...dazzling imaginings...Thomas gets the tone and feel of 18th-century court uncannily right...She is a master at recognizing and providing the telling detail...It's a bravura glimpse into a time past and a dreamlike life.

Tennessean News

...The entire tale is fascinating...

Publishers Weekly (June 9, 2003)

...The story of Marie-Antoinette's final days is well known, so the delights of this rendition lie in the details. [The main character] Laborde is a keen observer of the queen's moods and appearance, and her attempts to cheer her mistress with well-chosen passages give her story extra depth. Like the tiny enamel painting of Marie-Antoinette's bright blue eyes that inspires Laborde's reminiscences, this is a cunning, gemlike miniature.

Booklist

...[The main character's] status as courtier makes her the best kind of narrator—at once an insider and an observer of the royals. She describes the final days before the revolution engulfs the palace with insight and surprising slices of humour....Thomas's formidable skills as a researcher give the book authenticity, and her keen eye for human behavior and talent for storytelling make it sing.

Kirkus Review (April 15, 2003)

A former reader to Marie-Antoinette recalls July 1789, in an edifying and masterly first novel, winner of the Prix Femina...Scholarly precision in an artful, fluid, compelling narrative Vive la Reine!

Library Journal (July 2003)

A masterly, haunting account of the downfall of the ancien regime. Timid Agathe Sidonie is the perfect witness, hidden in the corners but capable of musing intelligently on monumental historical change and the particular tragedy of Marie-Antoinette.

Reader Reviews
Peter Parmella

Une grande déception. Á l'ecole j'ai lu de telles histoires.
Truly a disappointing and boring tale about 200 pages toolong.


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