This fictional reconstruction of the life and times of Mme Tussaud – born Marie Grosholtz – is an absolutely outstanding MASTERPIECE of a book. One of the most interesting historical fiction books, I’ve ever read.
The story opens with Marie, diminutive in stature and deemed ugly by the standards of the day, living with her widowed mother in Alsace. The pair move to Berne in Switzerland, where her mother takes up a position as a housekeeper to an eccentric anatomist Dr Curtius who makes wax models of body parts, healthy or diseased for the local hospital. When Marie, otherwise named ‘Little’ is orphaned when her mother dies, Dr Curtius takes on the guardianship of ‘Little’ and she helps him in several ways with his work. Learning to draw the body parts and also looking after him. She studies the methods of every aspect of Dr Curtius’s trade
The pair move to Paris where they live with a fearsome widow of a tailor Mme Picot and her young son, along with a stuffed dummy resembling her late husband Henry Picot. Soon Little is delegated to kitchen duties and cooking as a servant and treated badly by Mme Picot. Dr Curtius and Mme Picot eventually start a successful business together called The Cabinet Of Dr Curtius making wax models of Parisian luminaries and renowned people of the time including Voltaire but also criminals and murderers. The sights, sounds, atmosphere and smells of Paris at that time are described with an agonisingly acute sense of time and place
Marie is in time, taken on in the palace of Versailles as a tutor of wax sculpture to the Princess Elizabeth, sister of King Louis XVI, where with a lowly servant status and needing to be on hand at all times to the Princess, has to live in a cupboard at the palace.
Eventually, the French Revolution is upon them and the family including Marie are caught up in the troubled violent times in Paris during that time. Where the thirst for the blood of anyone of aristocratic connections, including the royal family or people of wealth and means is spilled on the streets or on the guillotine
This book gives an absolutely fascinating glimpse into the French Revolution and the key figures and citizens caught up in the uprising. Marie Grisholtz, The Picots and Dr Curtius have to adapt and fight for survival.
Throughout the book are the quirky, often macabre, but utterly fascinating illustrations by Marie Grisholtz
I can only imagine the amount of research needed by the author to research this novel.
Fortunately I was sent an ARC of this book complete with some intriguing postcard sized images of the drawings within. Such was my love for this book that I also bought my own Kindle copy of it to read while out and about.
Excellent. A macabre, quirkily eccentric and historically satisfying masterpiece.