Well-plotted if sometimes slow-moving novel of the French Revolution and one now-famous survivor of that heady (or, perhaps, be-heady) time.
In late 2010, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London installed its newest exhibit: a wax effigy of Lady Gaga. All that had to have started somewhere, and that’s where Moran’s (Nefertiti, 2007) tale comes in, adding dimension and emotion to the known historical facts. Here we find Madame Tussaud—then Mademoiselle Grosholtz—at the beginning of an illustrious career as a maker of wax models, all the rage of an aristocracy that, to judge by some of the scenes Moran unfolds, quite deserves to be put up against the wall. This business of being immortalized in wax is "something reserved only for royals and criminals,” young Marie Grosholtz reflects, and it’s a trade that she and her fashionmonger colleague Rose Bertin are all too glad to be involved with. As tutor and model maker to the court of King Louis XVI, Marie soon finds herself with a wide circle of friends royal and otherwise, including Marie Antoinette, who seems a touch more sensible than the standard account might have it. Into the picture come and go a parade’s worth of eminent historical figures, from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to the Dauphin, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and a very bad Robespierre. Marie is better at art than at guessing the future—“Not everyone may love the queen,” she opines, “but they shall always respect her”—and it’s only a matter of time before the Marquis de Sade starts to howl down from the Bastille that it’s time for the sansculottes to run their own show, which leads to—well, let’s just say that it leads to certain difficulties in the pursuit of the celebrity wax trade. Moran’s story unfolds deliberately and sometimes glacially, but it eventually arrives where it began, having enfolded a small world of characters and situations.
Mannered and elegant; reminiscent in many ways of novels of days long past, particularly the Baroness Orczy’s swifter-paced Scarlet Pimpernel.