Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund. William Morrow Paperbacks; 2007. 592 pages.
“Like everyone, I am born naked.”
These opening lines provide a captivating beginning to the mesmerizing and tragic life and story of Marie Antoinette.
I, like many others, find there to be something oddly compelling about the monarchs that littered the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. I am also very interested in Marie Antoinette. The origin of my interest in Marie Antoinette may, in fact, stem from the fact that when I was younger I used to play Nancy Drew computer mystery games, and one of the games included a character who was obsessed with Antoinette, which thus sparked my interest after learning a bit about her. (See, computer games can be educational)
I originally picked up this novel with rather low expectations. To clarify, that is not because I felt it was poorly written, for Sena Jeter Naslund is highly praised as a very gifted author, but simply because I am very picky about books when they are based on historical fact. I tend to get bored rather easily, so I figured I would read a few chapters of this book to see if it grabbed my interest, but as I said before, I didn’t have very high expectations. I was shocked when I stopped reading to find that I was already on page 75. When and how did that happen?
This book grabs you. Not in the “fast action-paced what’s-going-to-happen-next” way, but in the use of elegant and precise language that draws you in and just ever so slightly tugs on your curiosity, as if a very light feather is brushing at your arm waiting for you to lunge for it. I can easily understand people being turned off by Naslund’s writing style, however, which is a shame considering how marvelous this book turns out to be.
Abundance follows Marie from the time in her life when she travels to Paris to wed the Dauphin Louis XVI of France to the time of her gruesome death in 1793. This is an incredibly unique and well-crafted story told from the perspective of Marie herself. One reason that I enjoyed this novel so much was because it really gives the reader an inside perspective of the lives of Marie and her husband, the struggles they faced, and they were so shocked by the anger of their people and the revolution that resulted. This story is very sympathetic to Marie, and it is interesting to notice how little Marie thinks of anyone but her, her family, and her friends. She does not do this in a particularly purposeful or vengeful manner, but she simply does not give much thought to the struggles of the people that she rules over, which can turn into quite a problem for a monarch. In fact, the first half of the novel basically revolves around Marie’s anxiety that her husband continuously fails to consummate her marriage. It is quite a relief for Marie, the Paris civilians, and the readers when that finally happens. Another minor but interesting detail for me was reading about the fashions of the time period, such as the great towering headpieces that Marie was so famously known for wearing. Naslund really does an excellent job of focusing the everyday life of Marie; many of the activities that Marie participates in throughout her daily life would typically come across as rather mundane, but Naslund brings beauty and intrigue into everything she writes.
Overall, I truly enjoyed this novel. It was sincerely interesting and entertaining to read, and I was eager to find out what would happen. Even though we all know how this story ends, it still felt extremely tragic and heartbreaking to see Marie’s fate approach, and her strength to stay bold.