What a historical fiction treat! This was a wonderful quick read, set in the court of Marie Antoinette. The entire time I read it I compared it to the Sophia Coppola film, Marie Antoinette. When I watched that film a few months ago I really enjoyed it, but wished I remembered more about her and the French Revolution. Reading this book filled in a lot of details for me, and also when things were the same as they were in the movie I realized that they were probably fact, not fiction (i.e., the very clean and beautiful “farm” on the grounds of Versailles that Marie Antoinette could visit to feel she was in the country.) One thing that struck me very much in the film was that she had children and knowing what end she comes to. I found it heartbreaking to see her huddled in her palace with her frightened little children awaiting imprisonment and death. I’m sure I’d find the peasants’ starving children heartbreaking as well, but they were not the main characters in the movie, and so my sympathies were with Marie.
In the book there is a good balance of sympathy created for both the peasants and the children of Marie Antoinette, as the main character, Isabelle, comes to realize what an unfair dichotomy there is between the royals and the commoners. The concept that the king is not an instrument of God is a new one to her, and one she struggles with, as she grows to see him as a human man making many mistakes. Isabelle gets this up close view of the court at Versaille when she meets the young princess, Therese, while delivering lace to the palace one day. Isabelle’s life is a difficult one. She lives with her cruel grandmother and her crippled mother. They barely make ends meet, even though they sew lace all day long. When Isabelle sees the palace she is stunned by the luxury, the wealth, the apparent disregard people have for their own wealth, and the ignorance that is there as well. Therese insists that Isabelle be her “friend”, but it is clear that that is an order. Theresa doesn’t care for the name Isabelle, so calls her Clochette instead; she makes Isabelle wear the same clothes as her, and she refuses to listen to any details about Isabelle’s life or that of the other poor. Her staunch refusal to see those differences is astonishing.
Because the friendship between the girls is forced, I don’t really see this as a story of friendship. I see it instead as a wonderful story that humanizes both sides of the French Revolution. Highly recommended and thank you Vicky for recommending it to me!