A mammoth work by one of France's most respected poets is a detailed account of the week preceding Napoieon's return to power in 1815. Although the book is called a ""novel"" it is barely that. Rather it is a fictionalized study of the movements of various segments of French society and their reactions to the crucial turn of events. Most of the names mentioned are of people who actually lived -- and unfortunately the mere listing makes for a confused welter which clogs the narrative action. There is little of what we call ""plot""; the book rotates somewhat ponderously around a situation:- the flight of Louis XVIII and the preparations to meet the return of Napoleon from Elba, the period known as the famous 100 days. The central character is young Theodore Gericault, a Musketeer in the Royal Guards. Theodore is a man of sensibility, an artist and a thinker who is troubled by the choice thrust upon him. Should he follow his king into exile; defect- as many were doing- to the cause of Napoleon; or seek a third way out? His is not the only action traced. Each day of the Holy Week in handled in depth and many sections of the book read like a newspaper's account of the day's incidents. The period comes to life by the sheer weight of detail, but that very fact prohibits the dramatic flow. Readers interested in military minutiae will find it detailed to the last item of dress. The scholarship, the high calibre of reporting, the workmanship for many readers might have been sacrificed for a rousing, tight, well-paced story.