An accurate but lifeless retelling.

THE QUEEN'S LOVER

Du Plessix Gray attempts to fictionalize the love of Marie Antoinette’s life, without much success.

Axel von Fersen, a Swedish count, first meets the young Austrian princess Marie Antoinette, recently wed to the future king of France, at the Paris Opera. The handsome courtier and the graceful, sensitive dauphine instantly form a lifelong bond. Fersen, a diplomat and soldier, embarks with Lafayette’s armies to aid the American colonists in their revolutionary war, and his letters to his beloved sister Sophie detail these adventures. But eventually Fersen, after an exhausting grand tour in the service of Sweden’s flamboyant King Gustavus, reunites with Antoinette. The queen’s marriage, celibate for years due to a minor sexual dysfunction, is finally consummated and Antoinette is now a mother. As Louis XVI occupies himself with hunting and gluttony, Antoinette and Fersen tryst at her private lodge, Le Petit Trianon, and in secret quarters in the palace of Versailles. Soon, the revolt of the French populace ends this idyll. Fersen attempts to help the king and queen flee the revolution by smuggling the royal family out of Paris. Unfortunately, their escape is aborted, thanks in large part to the naiveté of Louis and the tardiness of Antoinette. As Fersen takes refuge in Belgium, the king and queen are held in progressively more restrictive settings until they are condemned to die. Although this is an absorbing and vivid exposé of the many missteps that led to the downfall of Louis and a sympathetic portrayal of the young queen and her noble endurance of the sadistic treatment that preceded her execution, it is not a novel. The narration, shared by Sophie and Fersen, hews too slavishly to events documented by contemporaneous accounts. All is summary; there are virtually no scenes imagining the characters’ lives; they never transcend their historically verifiable roles. Not even the last section, a grim recitation of Sweden’s own anti-royalist upheavals (leading to Fersen’s slaughter by an angry mob), realizes its dramatic potential.

An accurate but lifeless retelling.

Pub Date: June 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59420-337-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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