Annemarie Selinko's last novel: Desiree has become my top favourite 18th c HF read- without a doubt. The story of Eugenie Desiree Clary, Napoleon Bonaparte's first love is in my opinion one of the best novels ever written pertaining to the Revolution era- in terms of history, romance, historical characters, and impeccable writing style. This book kept me captivated from beginning to end. And- the funny thing is that I read this intermittently due to other priorities, so I naturally thought I'd for sure lose momentum and interest. This never happened and when I finally finished the book, I almost felt the parting sadness when losing a dear friend.
The story begins with Desiree writing the story of her life through a journal given to her by her father, prior to his death. The daughter of a fabric merchant, Desiree, was unpretentious, straight forward and incredibly brave and loyal in love, honour, friendship and family. Her strength of character (even when she didn't feel quite up to it...) was incredible. From the very beginning we can see her determination when it came to saving the raggedy young Napoleon at the beginning of his career. I loved reading about their romance and meager beginnings...all the short way upto his unfaithfulness and hurtful betrayal to leave Desiree for Josephine. This though, would not be the end of their encounters.
Throughout their lives, Desiree would always play an important role in Napoleon's life-not amorously, but with extended family and politically. Her attachment to the Bonaparte family, by the marriage of Napoleon's brother to Desiree's sister- and politically through her husband's (Bernardotte) importance (he first fought along Bonaparte's side and then became the King of Sweden). The history is impeccable and the story told with the perfect blend of simplicity and grandiose royal style (yes, it's possible).
I loved that Desiree's life entertwined Josephine's and her family- along with all the Bonaparte's and other significant historical characters (Fouche, for one). The novel takes us through their lives as well, giving a different perspective- and not just passing glimpses. But, most definitely, what I loved the most was the way Desiree always stood up to Napoleon. We encounter moments of truthful courage where Desiree speaks her opinion frankly and keeps her head high- even though she is terrified inside...others would have surely perished at the hands of Bonaparte for this behaviour- but not Desiree. This too showed us a side of Napoleon that remained loyal and respectful of the bond and young love they once shared. The book is filled with precious moments.
And what more of this brave girl...Desiree becomes part of Royalty herself; so for those who don't really know that part of history, I won't spoil it for you. I could go on forever about this book: Desire's regular-girl-achieving-great-things personality, her love for her husband, the King of Sweden, Bonaparte's wins and defeats, Josephine's other side, the Bonaparte family, Desiree's business and Royal side, the losses, the pain, the trials and triumphs and some of the funniest moments as well...It's all just too good.
Desiree is a spectacular book, and I HIGHLY recommend it.