A withered heart in a jar. Red ribbons circling powdered necks. Spun sugar and sculptures made of bones.
I am jealous of Jennifer Donnelly’s writing. Her prose is intelligent without being convoluted, and she skillfully entwines historical and contemporary narratives. Most of all, I envy her descriptions that bring both modern and eighteenth century Paris to life: the teeming cafes, the Victim’s Balls, the twisted catacombs and decadent Versailles.
Initially, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to sympathize with the protagonist Andi, a rich genius, disillusioned with prep school life. Andi abuses prescription pills and regularly contemplates suicide. At first glance, her outlook on life seems pretty emo; however, her actions become understandable as Donnelly reveals the tragedy that haunts Andi–the death of her younger brother Truman. Andi suffers from crippling depression and guilt over the death she believes she caused.
In Paris, Andi discovers the eighteenth century diary of Alexandrine, an actress who fought to save the little Prince Louis-Charles, cruelly imprisoned in The Tower by those claiming to fight for liberty and equality. I found the diary entries to be the most fascinating sections of the novel. Donnelly retells the French Revolution in a fresh manner, highlighting details that emphasize human experience instead of political strategy. The overarching message of the novel is timeless: Revolution begins with the individual, with the choice to change oneself even if the rest of the world seems mad and cruel.
An aside: I learned that Donnelly listens to a lot of the same music as I do!
Finished: December 12, 2010