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.
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.
...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.
...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.
...[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.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Peter Parmella
Une grande déception. Á l'ecole j'ai lu de telles histoires. Truly a disappointing and boring tale about 200 pages toolong.
From the lush gardens of Versailles to the lights and gaiety of Paris, the verdant countryside of France, and finally the stark and terrifying isolation of a prison cell, Naslund brings the 18th Century, and Marie Antoinette, vividly to life.
The winner of Britain's prestigious Whitbread Prize and a bestseller there for months, this wonderfully readable biography offers a rich, rollicking picture of late-eighteenth-century British aristocracy and the intimate story of a woman who for a time was its undisputed leader.
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