Friday, March 20, 2009

Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors - 528 pgs

Book CoverGabrielle de Montserrat is fifteen when she meets Pierre-Andre, a commoner whom she wishes to marry. Living with her brother, the Marquis, and her cruel mother, Gabrielle's plans are dashed when her brother marries her off to another man who uses his brutality to control her. When Gabrielle's husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her and her young daughter destitute, she must find a way to feed and shelter herself, even if it means becoming the mistress to a notorious cad. As Gabrielle navigates life for her and her daughter, the first rumblings of the French revolution begin to sound, which will eventually put her and everything she holds dear in danger. As the populace and the nobility turn on each other, and arrest and bloodshed become the order of the day, Gabrielle comes face to face with the man she left behind. But circumstances and lives have been irrevocably changed. Facing poverty, imprisonment, and the deaths of many of those closest to her in this complicated and unsettling time, Gabreille's life begins to head into unknown and unfamiliar territory. Charged with intrigue and emotion, Mistress of the Revolution tells Gabrielle's extraordinary story.

After reading the first few pages of this book, I was hooked. Gabrielle's story, written in the guise of a memoir, was filled with drama, pathos and excitement. I found her to be a wonderful character, both humble yet wise and forgiving. Through the course of the book, she went from a naïve teenager to a more thoughtful and well rounded woman, a woman shaped by her experiences. I thought that the personal growth evinced in the protagonist was very genuine and frank, and enabled me to really get close to Gabrielle and truly care about her circumstances. Instead of her innocence and naïveté being fractured all at once, there seemed to be a gradual devolving of these aspects of her character, and while this part of her personality was eventually shed, other more salient qualities began to assert themselves in her.

Another thing I liked about this book was the author's ability to flesh out her characters and make them seem like real people who were a product of their times. All of the people that populated this book were multi-dimensional and the morality that each espoused was not black and white, but varying and believable shades of grey. I felt that this aided the credibility of these characters and made them seem very realistic. Though some of the characters in this book were unpleasant, all had my undivided attention and some even my sympathy. The characters in this novel were written with a great depth and experience, and I believe this is one of the things that made this book exceptional.

Although there were elements of romance in this story, I would have to say that this book didn't really fall into the romance genre. Yes, at times, the love-story aspect was the main focus of the narrative, but generally speaking, this was not the main drive nor the primary facet of the book. The romance elements were extremely well done and tasteful, never compromising the historical aspects of the plot, but rather infusing the story with relevance and sensitivity.

I also liked the atmosphere of the story. Though it wasn't really filled with period minutia, the flavor and ambiance was very authentic and lent credence to the plot. I found the descriptions of attire and accommodation very convincing, and many times I got lost in the era, avidly encountering the essence and surroundings in which the characters lived. I found that although I wasn't really familiar with the era or the setting, the level of detail and the general aura of the story was at once engrossing and informative, and not a derivative of this type of literature at all.

The first half of this book dealt mainly with Gabrielle's changing circumstances, from the upheaval of her home life to her tumultuous marriage and eventual escape from the same. The latter half dealt mainly with the machinations of the revolution and the unpredictability of the population and its monarchy. Though Gabrielle was still the star of the show, the latter half of the book cast a much wider net over the political situation in France, thus turning this book from a character driven novel into more of a plot driven novel. I found this to be a bit unusual, but thought that the author handled this very skillfully, and instead of the book losing focus, the effect was one of a gradual widening of perspective and scope.

As I mentioned previously, I was not very familiar with this time period or area of the world, but I felt that the author did a wonderful job of illustrating the confusion and uncertainties of the time, in addition to forming a great chronicle for those of us with scant information about the French Revolution. I also really enjoyed the dramatic tension and elements of suspense that the author threaded throughout the story. The great thing about this was that the dramatic elements were held just long enough to be tantalizing, but not long enough to make the plot feel over-developed. In addition, the author used just the right amount of foreshadowing to facilitate the plot and make the narrative compelling and interesting.

Overall I found this to be a very gripping story. The narrative never lost its focus or drive, but remained compelling and interesting throughout. I did not find the plot to be insubstantial at all, and although the book was lengthy, It didn't feel too weighty or dense. I really enjoyed the multi-layered character portrayals and thought that the book was written with a great skill and a unique style. As a work of historical fiction, I thought it an unqualified success. I would definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy engrossing historical fiction.


Anonymous said...

I'm not really one for historical fiction, but this one does sound interesting (and less like it's secretly a bodice ripper... not that there's anything wrong with that, but I'm just not all that interested in Philippa Gregory's stuff, if you see what I'm saying!). I'm going to see if my library has a copy!

Marie Cloutier said...

sounds like it's right up my alley! :-) i love historical fiction.

Sadako said...

I'm also not into hist. fiction but it seems like a fun read. Enjoyed your review!

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