Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bibliobits: Cleaning, Michelle Moran's Madame Tussaud, and National Book Critics Circle Awards

Cleaning.  We do it for the guests.  We move the entire TBR collection into the "book room," where every horizontal surface (like the floor) is covered with books.  No one EVER sees this room.

But what if a guest knows we have a good science fiction collection? What if he or she follows us into the room?  Will strange men in fedoras and raincoats appear and chase him/her into another dimension?  No, that was "The Adjustment Bureau."  AAACCKKK!  He/she has seen our mess. 

MICHELLE MORAN'S MADAME TUSSAUD.  After serving a buffet of sushi, pierogi, broccoli, rumaki, ravioli, zucchini fries, kiwi, and biscotti (it's nostalgic "i" food night), I sink into a chair with a book. I don't care who wants what.  It's over.  I wave them into the living room.  I'M DONE.   It's time for a sporting event anyway.  

And so I read Michelle Moran's engrossing new historical novel, Madame Tussaud, an excellent, well-written "pop" literary book.  Set in 1788 on the brink of the French Revolution, it is the story of Marie Tussaud, the wax sculptress and founder of Tussauds Museum. In 1788, in her late twenties, she is the primary artist in the Salon de Cire (her family's business in Paris) and lives with her mother and uncle.  Trained by her uncle in the art of wax sculpture, Marie also is a creative businesswoman who works hard on publicity, attracts  the prurient public by grouping the wax figures for maximum effectiveness, and is on the lookout for famous people to model.  Moran's description of the art is fascinating:  they use  calipers to measure subjects (she can predict the beauty of the face sight-unseen if she has the measurements) and have various sculpting methods involving clay, plaster casts, and wax.  Some of her most famous sculptures are of Marie Antoinette, Rousseau, Lafayette, Thomas Jefferson, Marquis de Sade, and various princes and murderers.  

But Marie is not just a sculptor. Robespierre, Duc d'Orleans, and Henri Charles (an inventor with a crush on Marie) are among the many famous people who visit Marie's uncle's evening salon.  They discuss politics, provide contacts for Marie's sculpture models, and give the family first-hand information about the revolution.  But Marie is ambivalent:  she meets Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, their children, and Louis' sister, Princess Elisabeth, when they visit the salon to see a sculpture of Maire Antoinette being dressed by a famous couturier, and likes them. Afterwards, she is invited to teach Princesse Elisabeth the art of wax sculpture and has direct access to the palace; she sees that Princesse Elisabeth and Marie Antoinette are good people. Elisabeth has a farm by which she feeds the poor.

A very good read.  Moran is also the author of Nefertiti and some Egyptian historical novels.

National Book Critics Circle Award Winners:  A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan; Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth Of Other Suns : The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration; Sarah Bakewell's How To Live: Or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer; and Darin Strauss’s Half A Life.

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