This novel is written from the point of view of Marie Antoinette beginning at age 14 when she was married off to the 15-year-old Dauphin, later to become King Louis XVI. Marie Antoinette has been groomed by her mother, the Empress of Austria, to be the perfect wife, obedient, cheerful, beautiful, and eager to bear children. However, things become more challenging than anticipated when Louis does not consummate the marriage.
Marie Antoinette, although genuinely eager to be a perfect princess and future Queen, behaves, in many ways, like a typical teenager. The author, Naslund, used Marie Antoinette’s letters as the major resource for her novel and as such, the young woman’s voice comes through with clarity and power. It is a voice that can be wearying on the listener but is both vivid and compelling.
Naslund writes in great detail of the sensual world Marie Antoinette experiences and interprets. The listener feels pulled into both time and place. I used an audiobook read by Susanna Burney whose story evolves impressively from that of an eager to please child to that of a mother and wife struggling for the survival of her family.
It is easy to condemn Marie Antoinette’s extravagances, especially her enormous gambling debts and expenditures on jewelry and clothes but, given an identical situation, many modern young women would behave in the same way.
In spite of her Habsburg lineage, Marie Antoinette is a woman ruled by her husband and country and therefore at the mercy of others. There is little mercy during the French Revolution.
Another perk of listening to the audiobook is the interview with the author after the novel is complete. This provides insight into the historical Queen and why the author chose to present her in this light. If you enjoy historical fiction, especially those that get deeply into the minds of the protagonist, you’ll love this book.