Friday, July 6, 2012

Review - Désirée by Annemarie Selinko

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Paperback: 608 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Release Date: October 1st, 2010 (1953 re-release)
Source: I received this ARC from the publisher for review.
While I expected to enjoy Désirée, I couldn’t have been more surprised by how modern the author’s style read. The original publication year was 1953, so I went into this book expecting the writing to feel somewhat dated. However, similarly to the works of Jean Plaidy, Selinko’s recounting of history is timeless.
I feel I cannot post a discussion of this book without making the obvious comparison to Sandra Gulland’s Josephine B. Trilogy, which regular readers of this blog will know to be some of my favorite historical fiction picks *ever*. Not only are Désirée and Josephine Bboth written in diary format, but each one also tells the story of women who were at one point loves of Napoleon, and both give insight to the idiosyncrasies of his (shall we be polite and say “eccentric”?) family. Josephine plays a prominent role in Désirée, although she is portrayed less sympathetically than she is in Gulland’s novels. Interestingly enough, after finishing the book I noticed that on her website Gulland listed Désirée as one item on a concise list of recommended reading, with a note simply calling it, “the classic.”
But Désirée is unique in that it introduces readers to a completely new heroine, Désirée Clary. Though the book has been around for quite some time, no other author has ever tried to write a novel on her life. Perhaps that is with good reason; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, comes to mind. So Désirée’s life was uncharted historical territory for me, and I loved getting to know her as a character. She was smart, witty, and if I had to think back on all the books I’ve ever read and choose a character whom I’d like to have as a friend today in real life, I’d choose her. I also happen to have Swedish ancestry, and though she is a Frenchwoman, Sweden plays a big role in Désirée’s life. I’ve never visited before and don’t have plans to in the future (I’d rather go to France, to be honest!), but the country’s history is certainly fascinating.
I’m always impressed with the fact that no matter how many books I read about this time period, I never seem to get bored. There were so many different types of people involved in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic period, and therefore so many stories there to be told. I think what I admired most about Désirée is that she started as a commoner, the daughter of a silk merchant, yet no matter how high her star rose, she always remained grounded. I loved that she *dreaded* the idea of living in a palace and made her husband promise that they would never have to inhabit one. Admirable as Désirée’s desire may have been, fate had other plans in store for her.

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