Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

Admittedly, I've gone through a huge I-want-to-read-everything-I-can-get-my-hands-on-about-Paris phase.  This was just one of the many I found that dig into France's history and give me that fix that I'm looking for.  Before I started Becoming Marie Antoinette, I didn't know this was just the first in what would be a series, so I wondered why it didn't cover more time, but I still really enjoyed it and can't wait for the next to come out in May.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "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 dauphin 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."

Review:  Marie Antoinette and Versailles are two things that people continue to be intrigued about.  How would it be to be that wealthy and to have that much recognition?  What was she really like and what must Versailles have been like in its day?  In Juliet Grey's novel, we get a bit of an idea in this piece of historical fiction. 

Much of the novel surrounds Marie Antoinette's childhood and teen years, wherein she was groomed and prepared for an eventual marriage to Louis XVI of France.  Although Austrian, Marie was forced to change things about herself to become more of what her French husband might like.  There is an especially traumatic scene with a doctor/dentist, where she is given a pretty barbaric set of braces to change her teeth.  Having had braces as a teenager, I couldn't even fathom the pain she went through--without numbing medication--to get those braces.  Excruciating is all I have to say about that scene!

Throughout the novel we are privy to Marie's preparations and emotional upheaval about her own future.  It had to be frightening to need to model yourself so much after the desires of someone you didn't even know, not to mention the fear that must have come from knowing you would be giving up your entire world for another.  However, Marie does just that and moves into her marriage with Louis XVI, which becomes an even newer and different trial of loneliness and confusion.  

The book paints a blossoming friendship between Marie and Louis, as they had little by way of passion or desire in their marriage.  It does seem pretty weird that the two didn't have a physical relationship for so long.  Historians have come up with a few medical reasons why Louis XVI might not have been able to consummate the marriage, but no one knows for sure, because it obviously did eventually happen. Much of the final section of the book surrounds Marie's frustration and confusion over her lack of a sexual relationship with her husband.  Had it not really been based in history, I would have also found it all a bit exhausting to keep dwelling on it, but I think I would be pretty confused if I had to wait years to finally have a real marriage. 
As mentioned above, there are some really interesting scenes that jumped out at me and had me look at Marie Antoinette's story in a different way.  I've always thought it must be lonely and somehow difficult to be a monarch--as strange as that sounds--but never in quite the way I did after reading Grey's novel.  There is a lot of detail to the novel, and a lot of back story of her childhood that are pretty interesting to consider.  In a sense, the novel helped to humanize Marie Antoinette for me as she maybe had not been before.  Overall, I enjoyed the novel, and with the open ending of this first book, I'm eager to see Marie grow into a woman and to see her story find some resolution.  I'll definitely be reaching for the next book when it comes out in May!   

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the book.


  1. I'm really fascinated by that time period and Paris is my favorite setting for a book. Great review. Love the cover for this book!

  2. I really enjoyed this one. It was such a different and interesting take on Marie Antoinette's story. I thought the author did such a great job with her research. I'm so excited for the next one to come out.
    2 Kids and Tired Books

  3. I still have not gotten to this one yet. I need to do so soon!

  4. I am looking forward to the sequel to this in May!

  5. Louis XVI was a weird dude. Maybe he felt the need to act completely opposite to his dad? I wouldn't want to be married to him, I can tell you that much.