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Agathe Sidonie-Laborde is a 65 year old exile living in Vienna. Once the assistant reader to Queen Marie Antoinette, Agathe recalls the period of 14-16 July 1789, the beginning of the French Revolution where the splendour of the court of Versailles starts to crumble and the discontent of the people in Paris reaches new heights.
My thoughts: The book piqued my interest because it tells the well known story of the fall of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette from Agathe's unique perspective and focuses on just those few days when it all began to fall apart. I found it interesting that the courtiers held onto the belief that the King would be able to pacify the people and things would continue as before. It was quite obvious to anyone else that this was not the case. Even when Agathe innocently wanders a little too far away from the Grand Apartments of Versailles, she is greeted by a host of unsavory characters. Even the palace guards were mutinous, refusing to announce the nobility or pointedly ignoring them. I did enjoy the insider view of the court provided by Agathe, particularly seeing the courtiers abandon their strict social principles amidst their anxiety. Still, even when some became worried enough to flee I didn't get the sense the characters grasped the seriousness of the situation.
I had several problems getting through this book even though it wasn't very long. The main issue was that I felt the characters were two dimensional and not well defined. Even with Agathe, the protagonist, I felt as if I did not get much of a sense of her. Some characters were mentioned off-handedly and while I could tell they were important persons by their titles or the way those around them referred to them, they were too numerous and not well fleshed out enough for me to remember or care who they were.
I like when authors give a not often seen point of view but choosing Agathe, someone who wasn't really important at Versailles at all (Marie Antoinette was not much of a reader), only let us see a limited view of what was occurring. Half the time she spent with the rest of the court worrying and waiting and the reader finds out about developments through gossip with other characters. I got the sense that the Queen was deeply unhappy with having to stay in France when she wanted to flee and the King was so sure of the love of the people he really seemed quite oblivious to what was really going on. Other than these impressions I didn't really get much more out of the royal couple beyond that. The book is very detailed but some of it was mundane and unimportant which slowed the pace down to a crawl at points.
I know this book won the Prix Femina award in France but the issues I encountered really diminished my enjoyment of the book. It was just ok for me and honestly I've read much better books about the French Revolution. Interestingly enough, this book is being adapted into a movie starring Diane Krueger as Marie Antoinette. First stills from the movie can be found HERE. This is one instance where I'm willing to bet the movie will be better than the book.