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Farewell My Queen A Novel [Hardcover]

Chantel Thomas , Black Moishe
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 29 2003
A woman whose function it once was to read books aloud to Marie Antoinette is haunted by the memory of her last days at the French court of Versailles, when Louis XVI's magnificent palace succumbed to the irrepressible forces of revolution. Now exiled in Vienna, Madame Agathe-Sidonie Laborde looks back twenty-one years to the legendary opulence of Versailles and, overcome with nostalgia and remorse, discovers the full measure of her fascination with the Queen she served.

Madame Laborde takes the reader within the palace, meticulously reconstructing the 14th, 15th, and 16th of July 1789—feverish days when the servants have disappeared and many of the courtiers are fleeing. Versailles' miniature universe, sparkling with every outward appearance of happiness and beauty, is brilliantly juxtaposed with the chaos that erupts. We witness the unraveling of the palace's dawn-to-dusk ritual and the rising panic of the court as Versailles edges closer and closer to collapse. With the revolutionaries virtually at the gates of the palace, Madame Laborde herself flees the night of the 16th, escaping with members of the once-powerful de Polignac family.

Transporting us to revolutionary France with the knowledge and insight of an historian and with the skill of a consummate storyteller, Thomas evokes this historical moment more powerfully than any historical analysis can.


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From Booklist

As revolution rages outside the palace walls, inside the court of Versailles--the court of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI--denial reigns before giving way to alarm, which in turn degenerates into panic and chaos. Thomas spins the familiar events of the 1789 French Revolution into a compelling novel, with the central character less the famously ill-fated queen than the insular and ritualized society of the palace. The story is told by a woman looking back 30 years, to when it was her job to read books aloud to Marie Antoinette. Her status as courtier makes her the best kind of narrator--at once an insider and an observer of the royals. She describes the final days before revolution engulfs the palace with insight and surprising slices of humor. Some passages read almost like satire, as the indulged inhabitants of Versailles cling to the privileges that have defined their now-threatened lives--royals are reluctant to leave the palace without proper traveling attire, courtiers try to flee while lugging heavy possessions. Thomas' formidable skills as a researcher give the book authenticity, and her keen eye for human behavior and talent for storytelling make it sing. Karen Holt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

"Elegant, powerful ... No ordinary historical novel. It's a bravura glimpse into a time past and a dreamlike life that seemed to have nowhere to go but into oblivion." -The Washington Post Book World

“Delightful … Vivid and elegant … [A] rich tableau vivant … In these pages the ill-fated queen is allowed to be human.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Illuminating … Intimate … The charm of its language, Thomas’ thorough research, and her compassion for her subject not only imbue the novel with remarkable authenticity but also render it a memorable billet-doux to a bygone France.” –Orlando Sentinel

“A fascinating portrayal … Gorgeous details.” –The Christian Science Monitor

"Graceful, exquisitely detailed . . . the delights of this rendition lie in the details. . . . Like the tiny enamel painting of Marie Antoinette's bright blue eye that inspires Laborde's reminiscences, this is a cunning, gem-like miniature." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Compelling . . . Thomas's formidable skills as a researcher gives the book authenticity, and her keen eye for human behavior makes it sing." --Booklist (starred review) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great June 30 2004
Format:Hardcover
Perhaps it's because I read this novel in translation that I did not find it as compelling as others reviewers have. I finished the novel because I wanted to find out how the protagonist made it to Vienna when the Versailles fantasy began to collapse. But it was a slow go. In places, such as where the protagonist recalls in stunning detail a lengthy conversation between two guards about Marie Antoinette, I felt my crdulity strained that, as one of the queen's courtiers, she wasn't either beaten up or raped by these two guys. In fact, maybe it was the sexlessness of this world--with only the hint of a possible lesbian relationship with Gabrielle de Polignac--that made it finally less than riveting.
High points of the novel: the meticulous description of the most minute gradations of rank and the way they constantly underwent change.
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5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant historical fiction June 30 2004
By Harriet Klausner TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Two decades have passed since the momentous events of the final days of the reign of King Louis XVI and his Queen Marie-Antoinette. The Queen's deputy reader, Madam Agathe-Sidonie Laborde, from the safety of her Vienna apartment looks back to the revolutionary fervor that beheaded the monarchy and recalls that final month in the summer of '89. Leading up to the three heated July days, the opulent aristocracy including the king refused to believe the unrest would turn violent. Instead they lived in splendor in the Versailles Palace accompanied by rats, insects, and disease as to be expected when one builds on a swamp. By the time the court accepted reality, it proved too late for most although Madam Laborde, in a desperate Hail Mary escape attempt knowing that anyone associated with the crown was subject to Madam Guillotine, obviously succeeded so that she can share her memories of those days that changed the world forever.
This brilliant work of historical fiction shines quite a fabulous light on mostly Marie Antoinette in her final days, but also the rest of the French Court as the Revolution erupts. The tale provides the most intimate levels of detail that history ignores (a luxurious castle overrun by vermin stunned this reviewer). Madam Laborde's account is so dramatic and specific even to the smallest tidbits that the audience ends up with a terrific work of fiction that provides an insightful reality of the era, so much so that audience will feel they are standing in the dark along side the frightened queen who tried to flee when it was too late. Historical readers including non-fiction fans will treasure this incredible creative masterpiece.
Harriet Klausner
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4.0 out of 5 stars Three days at Versailles June 19 2004
Format:Hardcover
Agathe-Sidonie Laborde was a reader to Queen Marie-Antoinette of France. Living in exile in Vienna at the age of 65 she recounts in flashback the last days of Versailles before it fell to the revolution in France.
The story is rather like watching a ship sink. A world full of people and customs that are on the brink of extinction and right up to the last minute few of them want to believe that their world is ending. Versailles and its inhabitants and centuries of customs vanish in the space of three days.
In this small novel the author brings to life for a short space the doomed world of the French aristocracy, told through the eyes of someone who lived on the fringes of their world, but still knew its inhabitants well. This is not my favourite historical novel, but it is one that is memorable for its feeling of doom and how well the author seems to have caught the lost world of France before the revolution.
Would I read this book again? At this point, I couldn't give a definite yes. I would recommend you borrow this from the library to read before buying it to see if it suits your tastes in historical novels as in many ways it differs from the "standard" history story.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An ephemeral three days March 5 2004
By ilmk
Format:Hardcover
Chantal Thomas' 'Farewell my Queen' takes the form of a confessional memoir, spoken by an old lady in self-imposed exile in Vienna, recounting the change in French monarchy to republic. The pivotal story takes place over the course of three days, giving us a by the hour breakdown of the confusion that surrounding the tumultuous events of July 14 - 16, 1789 as the Bastille fell and Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were forced to attempt to flee Versailles. It is an eloquently written novel that seeks to demonstrate the artificial utopia of a late eighteenth century French court life which floated along in a structured yet almost dreamy manner and was rudely intruded upon by the realities of life over a fateful three days. Whilst it is hard to find sympathy for any of the protagonists, so ably represented by the doeful Madame Laborde, second reader to the Queen, it does show an embellished view of the shocking awakening of those courtiers that drifted through court life in a naive manner where responsibility for actions and their consequences has been entirely removed.
We follow the inexorably obsequious Laborde as she scuttles from room to room not understanding what is happening to shake her gentle world, responding in a child-like fear to the anxious adults. The scene where Madame Laborde is summoned to the Queen's Gilt Chamber to assist in her packing for trip to Metz best epitomises the rapid descent into chaos as the Queen's ladies desperately seek to retain some normality in the absence of hard facts and the maelstrom that is rife rumour.
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