Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Mini-Review Roundup


  Mini-Review Roundup

Honestly, this was kind of a letdown. It's not that there's anything wrong with it, but I guess my expectations were too high. I had the sense that this was THE Marie Antoinette book. Unfortunately for me, I've already read Juliet Grey's fiction series and Caroline Weber's non-fiction Queen of Fashion and I prefer both of those. 

To me, Juliet Grey's series has all of the historical facts of Antonia Fraser's offering (I imagine she used AF's book as a major source-- it feels very much like "copy, paste, add humanity"), but also all of the heart, soul, and caring for the "characters" that Antonia Fraser's book lacks. Juliet Grey's series made the people come alive. I felt for the people in ways that I just didn't when reading AF's book. 

But Juliet Grey's series is fiction, you may say. Of course I'm going to feel for the characters more there, you may say. This is an unfair comparison, you may say. Yes, yes, except Caroline Weber's non-fiction book absolutely captured my heart and emotions. I was sobbing when reading the final years of MA's life, I felt for her as she wiled away her youth to distract herself from her childless and passionless marriage. I was emotionally invested in it all. Antonia Fraser's book just lacked this connection for me, and even though by this point I know enough about the story to fill in all of the emotional bits, AF's writing was just too distant and too plodding and too surface to leap off the page even with this knowledge. 

It wasn't bad by any stretch. If I had read it first, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more. The facts are there. The writing isn't dry. The history is presented in a way that is easy to follow. It just...lacks the heart I want and have found elsewhere.



I picked this up on a whim because I was participating in a Victorian theme week and the conversation there sparked my interest in Victorian fashion. I enjoy seeing how fashion is influenced by and influences history (see Caroline Weber's excellent book Queen of Fashion) and Ariel Beaujot did a nice job explaining that interplay here. She focuses not on Victorian fashion overall, but on a few key items such as fans, umbrellas, gloves, etc. 

For those less interested in non-fiction and not terribly familiar with the Victorian era, this might be a little dry and disjointed. It did have that "dissertation" vibe to it. I also don't necessarily agree with all of her conclusions and I do question how factual some of her facts are (it's a little bit of a stretch to make the claims on, for example, umbrellas that she made). So, perhaps not for everyone. 

For me, I didn't mind these things. Overall, I enjoyed the book. I spent a lot of time looking up facts (that were true) and delving more deeply into the history through Internet searches. It was fun. It also taught me a lot of the "why" and the story behind a number of items that are antique store staples that I've seen a lot but didn't fully understand (like celluloid vanity sets). This was neat. It's a short read and one I considered well worth my time.


Well, this was...not what I was expecting. Did I like it? Yeah. I think. Yes. Mostly. 

I think this might have been, in part, a case of misplaced expectations. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but it was not what I got. Here's what I would have told myself to expect if I could go back in time: 

The atmosphere is dreamy and hazy. The sense of place is palpable, but it's more about the heat and the vibe and the feel and the emotions than about feeling any particular historical sense of time and place. The mystery of what happened to the girls is at the center of everything, but this is not a detective story. You're not going to spend time gathering and putting together clues. This isn't about solving the mystery.

The event happens at the beginning, and then the rest of the story is more of a character study, exploring the impact and fallout of the event on the various characters. This almost reminded me of The Turn of the Screw in that you're in the position to observe the impact of events on the psyche of the characters, but you don't know for sure where the truth lies. Is that character losing their mind? Cool and calculating? Naturally bereaved? You don't know, you won't know. But the exploration and the questioning and the plausible pathways is captivating. 

Overall, yes, I think this is a good one. It has power and effect. It made me think and feel and wonder. It stayed with me. It's not what I would call an enjoyable read. It's not a happy book. I'm glad I read it.

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