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Versailles
Cover of Versailles
Versailles
A Novel
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Versailles is the story of an expansive spirit locked in a pretty body and an impossible moment in history. As the novel begins, fourteen-year-old Marie Antoinette is traveling from Austria to France to meet her fiancé, the mild, abstracted Louis. He will become the sixteenth Louis to reign in France, and Antoinette will be his queen, hemmed in by towering hairdos, the xenophobic suspicion of her subjects, the misogyny of her detractors, the larger-than-life figures of Mirabeau, Du Barry, Robespierre, and the manifold twists and turns of the palace she calls home.

The novel moves from room to room, from garden to fountain, occasionally breaking into playlets in which we glimpse characters struggling to mind their step in the great ballroom of the world. Driving our tour is the relentless engine of time, that friend to youth, for whom anything is possible. Antoinette gives birth to four children, two of whom will outlive her; she falls in love; she dies at the guillotine. A meditation on time and the soul's true journey within it, Versailles is at once wittily entertaining and astonishingly wise.

Versailles is the story of an expansive spirit locked in a pretty body and an impossible moment in history. As the novel begins, fourteen-year-old Marie Antoinette is traveling from Austria to France to meet her fiancé, the mild, abstracted Louis. He will become the sixteenth Louis to reign in France, and Antoinette will be his queen, hemmed in by towering hairdos, the xenophobic suspicion of her subjects, the misogyny of her detractors, the larger-than-life figures of Mirabeau, Du Barry, Robespierre, and the manifold twists and turns of the palace she calls home.

The novel moves from room to room, from garden to fountain, occasionally breaking into playlets in which we glimpse characters struggling to mind their step in the great ballroom of the world. Driving our tour is the relentless engine of time, that friend to youth, for whom anything is possible. Antoinette gives birth to four children, two of whom will outlive her; she falls in love; she dies at the guillotine. A meditation on time and the soul's true journey within it, Versailles is at once wittily entertaining and astonishingly wise.

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 8, 2002
    Davis (Walking Tour) takes liberties with the legend of Marie Antoinette in this novelization of the doomed queen's life, narrated as a series of sketches told mainly from Antoinette's point of view. As Davis imagines it, Antoinette is a bawdy, clever, forthright young woman interested above all in her own pleasures; she and her bumbling husband, Louis XVI, are guilty of little more than enjoying their courtly privileges. Davis has a light touch, and she sometimes wryly acknowledges questions of historical veracity that the novel inevitably raises. Recalling a conversation with Axel, a member of the Swedish court and object of her affection, Antoinette says, "Of course these may not have been our exact words, though they're close enough, at least in spirit." A few pages later, in case the reader gets any ideas about consulting an encyclopedia: "Nor does it matter, really, if Axel was my lover, in the physical sense at least.... It matters to historians, most of them men. It matters to gossips, most of them women. The pleasure is in the speculation.... Were we sexually intimate? What difference could it possibly make to you?" Such playful self-reflexivity is woven through accounts of historic events and personages, among them Madame Du Barry, Mirabeau and the story of the imprisonment and execution of the king and queen. Davis's Antoinette—a wit and a flirt—is bewitching, and the book is an alternately funny and melancholy meditation on the passage of time and the vagaries of history. (Aug. 8)Forecast: Writer's writer Davis deserves a broader audience; glamorous subject Marie Antoinette and a glittery chandelier-festooned jacket may help break her out.

  • Library Journal

    April 15, 2002
    Winner of the Kafka Prize and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Davis is a startling and perceptive writer who should be better known. Maybe this reimagining of Marie Antoinette will break her out.

    Copyright 2002 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Versailles
A Novel
Kathryn Davis
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