Marie Antoinette Online Forum

"Abundance" by Sena Jeter Naslu
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Author:  Adrienne [ Thu Sep 21, 2006 8:30 am ]
Post subject:  "Abundance" by Sena Jeter Naslu

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"Like everyone, I am born naked."

With this opening line of Naslund's compelling new novel, a very human Marie Antoinette invites readers to live her story as she herself experiences it. From the lush gardens of Versailles to the lights and gaiety of Paris, the verdant countryside of France, and finally the stark and terrifying isolation of a prison cell, the young queen's life is joyful, poignant, and harrowing by turns. As her world of unprecedented royal splendor crumbles, the charming Marie Antoinette matures into a heroine of inspiring stature, one whose nobility arises not from the circumstance of her birth but from her courageous spirit.

Marie Antoinette was a child of fourteen when her mother, the Empress of Austria, arranged for her to leave her family and her country to become the wife of the fifteen-year-old Dauphin, the future King of France. Coming of age in the most public of arenas, the young queen embraces her new family and the French people, and she is embraced in return. Eager to be a good wife and strong queen, she shows her new husband nothing but love and encouragement, though he repeatedly fails to consummate their marriage and in doing so, fails to give her the thing she-;and the people of France-;desire most: a child and an heir to the throne.

Deeply disappointed and isolated in her own intimate circle apart from the social life of the court, the queen allows herself to remain ignorant of the country's growing economic and political crises. She entrusts her soul to her women friends, her music teacher, her hairdresser, the ambassador from Austria, and a certain Swedish count so handsome that admirers label him "the Picture." When her innocent and well-chaperoned pilgrimage to watch the sun rise is viciously misrepresented in satiric pamphlets as a drunken orgy, the people begin to turn against her. Poor harvests, bitter winters, war debts, and poverty precipitate rebellion and revenge as the royal family and many nobles are caught up in a murderous time known as "the Terror."

With penetrant insight into new historical scholarship and with wondrous narrative skill, Naslund offers an intimate, fresh, and dramatic re-creation of this compelling woman that goes beyond popular myth. Abundance reveals a compassionate and spontaneous Marie Antoinette who rejected the formality and rigid protocol of the court; an enchanting and tenderhearted outsider who was loved by her adopted homeland and people until she became the target of revolutionary cruelty and violence; a dethroned queen whose depth of character sustained her in even the worst of times.

Once again, Sena Jeter Naslund has shed new light on an important moment of historical change and made that time as real to us as the one we are living now. Exquisitely detailed, beautifully written, heartbreaking and powerful, Abundance is a novel that is impossible to put down.

<i>Abundance is our Book Club selection for November.</i> It is set for release October 3 so that gives you a whole month to get a copy and read it before you join us for our chat. Check out to order your copy in advance - just click the book up top there. :)

Author:  Therese [ Tue Sep 26, 2006 12:20 pm ]
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I have ordered mine!

Author:  Therese [ Fri Sep 29, 2006 8:48 pm ]
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I have my copy and have started to read. Boy, does this ever seem like a book I have read before.....

Author:  Adrienne [ Fri Sep 29, 2006 11:53 pm ]
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I have been contacted by the publishers looking for review of the book - given that I don't have a copy yet (although I have ordered one) perhaps they should be speaking to you Therese :) Do give us your early thoughts, I'd love to know what you think of it!

Author:  Therese [ Fri Sep 29, 2006 11:59 pm ]
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Adrienne, darlin,' I will read it ASAP and have a review for you! Funny, but I got an email asking if I wanted a free copy and I said yes and it was here in three days. Too marvellous for words. :lol:

Author:  Adrienne [ Sat Sep 30, 2006 2:05 am ]
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:D I think this is one of the problems with living on the other side of the world, things just take that much longer to reach me! Therese would you mind if I added your review to our book pages when you're done? I'm thinking about revamping the books and being a little more selective with them and some reviews from members of the forum would be a splendid way of featuring some of the items in a more pronounced way.

Author:  Therese [ Sat Sep 30, 2006 2:15 am ]
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Dear Adrienne, you are welcome to use any review that I write but I must warn you that so far I find this book a bit boring. But I'll keep reading....

Author:  Adrienne [ Sat Sep 30, 2006 3:20 am ]
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A review is a review :D better and honest one than one that is puff to sell more books! I'm sorry to hear it's boring though, I had high hopes for this new novel ...

Author:  Therese [ Sat Sep 30, 2006 11:36 am ]
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Well, it is just that it is in a first person format like several other novels about Marie-Antoinette, and so far it seems like just one more "Hidden Diary" except it is a little better written. Ok, I'll keep going.....

Author:  Therese [ Sat Sep 30, 2006 3:16 pm ]
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Ok, I am on page 70 with 480+ pages left to go. (Even though I have glanced ahead.) It is very tedious reading. I think if someone has never read anything at all about Marie-Antoinette it might be interesting for them, but for me it is all the same old legends retold in a sleepy sort of way. Nothing new, no original insights.

And as far as diary novels go, Victoria Holt's "The Queen's Confession" was faster paced and better written. One whole chapter is devoted to "'Toinette" being stripped of her Austrian finery and dressed in French clothes, and saying good-bye to her dog. I feel like I am reading the companion book of the Coppola film, the descriptions of clothes and jewels are fun, but there is no depth. There are constant very bizarre dream sequences that are supposed to lend depth, but they do not. And poor Louis XVI is portrayed as being impotent again. And the same old sexual frustration theme. Boring! Boring! Boring!

And then there is silly stuff like "'Toinette" trying to learn the word "Dauphine" while she is being stripped of her Austrian clothes. As if she would not have known that word when she was thirteen years old and the marriage was first arranged. I mean, they did speak French at the Hofburg. And the fact that they call her "'Toinette" is so stupid - that was a nickname for La Pompadour. M-A thinks of herself as "Marie," which is ridiculous, when people called her "Antoinette."

Naslund approaches the Catholicism of Marie-Antoinette (and of everyone else in the book) in an arms' length sort of way, and obviously did not do much research about it. She describes the dauphine as approaching the altar railing to receive the "sacraments." Well, which sacrament? There are seven. Usually, when people approached the altar railing it was to receive Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament, and those terms would have been well-known to Marie-Antoinette. But Naslund seems to be ignorant of the theology of the Eucharist, etc. Since the Catholic ritual and theology were a part of daily life for believers and non-believers alike at Versailles, one thinks she would have studied up on it a bit. It is more of how an American Protestant would think of Catholicism in the 18th century than how it really was. However, when spirituality is approached there are definite shades of Elena Maria Vidal, with some of the same descriptions of chapels and polyphonic choral music, without the substance. And the scene in the beginning with Madame Louise, whom Naslund calls "Sister Therese Augustine, " rather than "Therese de Saint Augustine." The Carmelite nuns took "titles" after a saint or a mystery. Getting the king's aunt's name wrong and the color of her habit wrong (brown not black) does not seem like a big deal but it just shows that minimal research was done to the religious aspects of the queen's life.

"Abundance" does not compare AT ALL to the authenticity of Chantal Thomas in "Farewell, My Queen" or Vidal's "Trianon." Naslund is not imaginative enough to branch out beyond bodily functions. There is not enough political tension and intrigue in the book, things with which eveyone at Versailles, even Louis, were involved.

What I like, so far, is the relationship of M-A with her mother - captured very well. And her closeness with her sister Caroline and how she wanted to find a friend to replace Caroline is well-portrayed. Otherwise, it is the book version of the Coppola film. Hopefully, it will get better, since I have a long way to go.....

Author:  Therese [ Mon Oct 02, 2006 7:19 pm ]
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I have finally finished Sena Jeter Naslund's "Abundance." I am still at a loss to figure out the reasons for such a title, except that it "abounds" with long narrative first person colloquies. The colloquies are supposedly Marie-Antoinette analyzing and dissecting her every emotion as well as pondering, in a vague sort of way, her furniture, clothes, gardens and friends. However, it is so hazy and dream-like; the only strong emotions that the main character generates are those associated with sex and childbirth. Not even the final tragic end elicited a single tear from me because M-A seems cheerfully disconnected from her own tragedy and I felt disconnected, too. She cries a little at Louis' death and the removal of her children, but otherwise she seems obsessed with Fersen and the furnishings of her cell at the Conciergerie. The hideous abuse of the dauphin is glossed over and the interpretation is straight from Zweig.

The positive things about Naslund's "Abundance" are as follows:

-The queen is portrayed as a virtuous, sweet, innocent, chaste, kind, devout woman who genuinely loved her husband and children and wanted to do her best for the people of France.

-Madame Elisabeth is in the book.

-Madame de Lamballe is sweet and lovely. Her head paraded in front of the Temple window is the strongest scene in the book.

-Louis XVI is shown to be a dedicated monarch and devoted husband and father.

-The relationship of Louis and M-A is shown to be a loving one, growing in devotion over the years.

-The religious aspects of the queen's life are not totally ignored and the sacramental theology improves as the book goes along, although everything is kept on a level of sweet feelings - there is no agony in this book, except in Marie-Antoinette's alleged sexual frustrations.

-the hunting scenes are beautifully done.

The weaknesses are that:

-it takes Naslund pages and pages to analyze every flicker of thought and emotion during a single event. Marie-Antoinette comes across as shallow and self-absorbed.

- the myth of Louis' phimosis/impotence is rehashed, ad nauseam.

-the queen is shown to be indulging in pleasures and parties out of sexual frustration - same old, same old....

-the characters are all the same, benign and charming, and one cannot tell one from another. One of the only scenes of any power is when M-A glimpses Artois raping a chambermaid in the corridor, but I am still not sure if it was supposed to be real, or just a dream or sexual fantasy.

-Versailles is like a fairy-tale palace and there are continuous allusions to fairies. No dirt, no bad odors, like the real Versailles. It is really like the book version of the Coppola film in that regard - Versailles in one big playground.

-Madame de Lamballe is the "good" friend while Madame de Polignac is the "bad" friend. Yolande Gabrielle is shown to be dissolute and greedy, encouraging Marie-Antoinette to have an affair, just like in the Coppola film.

-the Fersen fantasy is rehashed ad nauseam, and M-A is always thinking about Fersen whenever she thinks about God.

Naslund says at the end that her novel is "based on the published research of others" in their "non-fiction" works but I think she borrowed from some uncited published works of fiction, too. The best passages were those which strongly reminded me of other Marie-Antoinette novels. It is really sad to me that this novel as well as the Coppola film are how many people are going to picture Marie-Antoinette from now on. Oh, well, I guess it could be worse.

Author:  Louis-Charles [ Mon Oct 02, 2006 7:27 pm ]
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Thank you for your summary very precise and interesting dear Therese :D
It's always interesting to know opinions on books which we did not read, even if they are average :wink:

Author:  Therese [ Mon Oct 02, 2006 7:31 pm ]
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You are quite welcome, dear Louis-Charles. I think it is important for us here to keep informed about any new books relating to our queen.

Author:  Adrienne [ Fri Oct 13, 2006 12:27 pm ]
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Well I was hoping that while my computer was out of action this book might have arrived on my doorstep and I could get some reading done, but alas it still hasn't arrived. Has anyone else got a copy yet?

Author:  melly [ Mon Oct 23, 2006 6:23 am ]
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I just got a library copy - is it still going to be discussed next month?

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