Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Queen's Dollmaker

The Queen's Dollmaker by fellow Marylander Christine Trent is an engaging novel about a young French craftswoman in the days before and during the French Revolution. Following several tragic incidents, Claudette Laurent, the daughter of a famous Parisian dollmaker, finds herself a penniless orphan in London. Through determination, creativity, and with the help of a colorful set of friends, Claudette struggles to establish herself as an artisan and recreate the masterworks of her father. The craft of dollmaking is at the enchanting center of Trent's novel; at times I felt I was inside of the ballet La Boutique Fantasque. The descriptions of silk, wax, and wood, of the various types of dolls, of the entire doll making process, are intriguing and demonstrate the whimsical side of the eighteenth century.

As Claudette reaches the height of her career, her dolls come to the attention of Marie-Antoinette, who begins to send her commissions. Ever since a brief childhood meeting with the Queen, Claudette has always been devoted to her and refuses to believe the growing rumors of misbehavior. Occasionally the narrative of the novel gives glimpses of Marie-Antoinette’s life. I was personally reminded of the Coppola film, since Marie-Antoinette is shown drinking champagne (in actuality she was a teetotaler) and running off to Petit Trianon to be alone with Count Fersen (of which there is no solid proof.) Louis XVI is depicted as a mindless lump of a man. People who enjoyed the Coppola film will not find such descriptions of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to be problematical.

Although I am no fan of the Coppola film and similar portrayals of the Queen, I was still able to enjoy The Queen's Dollmaker. Claudette is a heroine of honor and integrity, caught between her admiration for an English gentleman and the memory of a lost love. The novel explores the difference between courtship based on restrained but genuine love, and the lust which destroys even as it seeks to quench desire. There is one explicit scene of an attempted rape which seems to capture the hateful passions that are unleashed by the Revolution. The obsessive, manipulative behavior of the would-be rapist as compared to the devotion of Claudette’s future husband is an excellent reminder for women of all ages of the authentic nature of love.

(*Note: This review is based upon an advance copy of The Queen's Dollmaker sent to me by the author.) Share


Matterhorn said...

This sounds like an interesting book, although it is a pity it repeats some of the stereotypes of the King and Queen. Claudette's story sounds quite touching, though.

Btw, I am reading the "Youth of Marie-Amelie, Queen of the French," based on the extracts of her journal published by her great-granddaughter, Princess Henriette of Belgium, in the 1930's. It's *very* interesting and I hope to post on it eventually.

elena maria vidal said...

Sounds fascinating!