three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
26-Jan-Feb-2007
user_rating: 
0

A Novel of Marie Antoinette

A-AbundanceMost people know how Marie Antoinette’s story ended, but few know how it began. Sena Jeter Naslund fills in the details of the queen’s life as she follows her from her days as Maria Antonia, a 14-year-old Austrian archduchess married off to the future French king Louis XVI in 1770 to seal a political alliance. Naslund then chronicles Marie’s efforts to produce an heir and outshine her rivals in the opulent French court as unrest grows among the populace. The more familiar part of the story—the Revolution and the infamous guillotine in 1793—follow. The novel, narrated by Marie herself, focuses on her experiences and emotions in one of the most turbulent and fascinating periods of history.
William Morrow/HarperCollins. 545 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0060825391

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"[I]f you read one book about Marie Antoinette … let it be Sena Jeter Naslund’s gripping, gabby and beautifully poignant novel about the French queen’s brief reign and bloody end. … Naslund’s writing is sumptuous and personal, and she manages to make that most remote of subjects—an 18th-century French queen—relatable to modern times." Donna Freydkin

San Diego Union-Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Naslund mixes historical observation with delight and tension that make it hard not to turn the page. She knows how to make meaning flow." Laurel Maury

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Intensive historical inquiry enables Naslund to re-create Marie Antoinette’s life with empathy and irresistibly piquant detail. … Even though we know the historical outcome, we hope that somehow our confidante will escape her fate." Barbara Lloyd McMichael

Christian Science Monitor 3 of 5 Stars
"While Abundance is an enjoyable historical novel with a wealth of period details, its worldview (like its narrator’s) is so insular it can be difficult for a reader to parse what was going on outside the Hall of Mirrors." Yvonne Zipp

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Fictionalizing a life that is already so surreal is usually a vain endeavor… so it’s best in reading Naslund’s romance to think of it as a kind of Forever Amber punted across the channel from Restoration England to Versailles." Liesl Schillinger

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[D]espite these spikes of dramatic irony, Naslund remains the queen’s most adoring attendant, an attitude that makes her too patient with Marie’s narcissism and may also explain the novel’s long-windedness. … Abundance is a moving testament to [Marie Antoinette’s] limited vision but also a frustrating reenactment of the self-absorption that killed the queen." Ron Charles

Critical Summary

Sena Jeter Naslund (Ahab’s Wife, 1999) relies on the abundant romance and intrigue of 18th-century France to buoy the weaker moments of her narrative. Her Marie Antoinette is self-absorbed, coddled, and fluttery, a woman who seems to care more about friends and flowers than about the growing discontentment in her adopted country. Reviewers are divided on whether this depiction of the queen renders her an unsuitable narrator. Marie’s perspective is a valuable reminder of her lifelong vulnerability and struggle to fit in, but her inability to see very far outside her head means the reader may occasionally miss out on valuable cultural context … or simply lose interest.