by Antonia Fraser
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Marie Antoinette / 0-385-48949-8
I love reading and learning about Marie Antoinette as a historical figure - she had such a fascinating life, and was such an interesting person - but I could not have been more disappointed with this book. I'm really surprised that it has so many high ratings, so take my review with a grain of salt, but I just found this book to be a complete chore to wade through.
It's really frustrating to see Fraser take such a fascinating historical figure and rob her of all interest with some of the dullest writing and bald assertions I've ever seen in a biography. I'm sorry to say that the book reads like the worst of high school history books - dryly vomiting up names and dates with very little context, and jumping about the map to cover events "chronologically" with very little effort made to tie events to one another with any sort of compelling or competent narrative. Fraser seems to regard name-dropping and quote-dropping as being most crucial details, and thus she never hesitates to drop in random quotes from various philosophers, sooth-sayers, and poets - even when doing so is distracting and detracts from the narrative flow.
Too much bald assertion is used here, and to ill effect. For example, Fraser insists that Marie Antoinette's memorable "re-dressing" ceremony was simply not bothersome or traumatic to the young woman, because it was the fashion of the time, not unusual at all, and that "she had, after all, been treated as a doll, to be dressed up in this and that at the adults' whim since childhood; this was just one more example of that process." This may be personal preference, but I dislike this style of writing in biographies - either tell us how the subject felt through actual, historical sources OR tell us how they *might* have regarded an experience, based on conjectures from personality documented through actual, historical sources. Do not, however, just attempt to "channel" the spirit of the biography from the depths of time, and tell us how they felt, because it's just not accurate - it's one woman's opinion. The entire book is written in this vein, and you just never get the impression that you're reading actual history, but rather Fraser's version of how she has decided it must have been. Whether you trust her to be the expert and know what she is talking about is another matter.
I recommend avoiding this book. As a source for Marie Antoinette, I found it sadly lacking, as much of what Fraser asserts as truth is undocumented at best. As reading material, I was repulsed by the turgid prose and by the jump-around-the-map, cram-everything-in-without-context, and drop-a-lot-of-cool-sounding-quotes approach to history.
~ Ana Mardoll
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