Books: The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court by Michelle Moran

I was looking for something to read, having difficulty finding something that appealed to me, and then I remembered how much I had enjoyed Michelle Moran's novels Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen, and Cleopatra's Daughter. And I wondered whether she had anything else out. So I looked her up and found The Second Empress.

Now, I'll admit my knowledge of Napoleon is limited to vague memories from history classes and references made in Regency romance novels, so this novel wasn't in my usual line. I love historical fiction, have since I discovered Judith Tarr when I was a middle grader, but mostly read stuff set in Ancient Egypt or Rome, or else Medieval and Tudor England (Regency romances notwithstanding). These are the areas I'm educated in. Which is funny because I'm French and should probably know more about France . . . I just get hazy around the 1700s because that's when my family fled and took up in Louisiana.

Okay, so The Second Empress is a quick read. And it's been a while since I read the other books by Moran, but I had the impression this one didn't have quite as much depth as those. That seems strange to say, since The Second Empress actually tells the story of the last few years of Napoleon's reign (and defeat, and attempted new reign, and final defeat) from a number of angles, using various players' points of view—though none of them Napoleon's own. The reader gets the thoughts of Marie-Louise, as the titular second empress after Napoleon set aside Jos├ęphine; the thoughts of Napoleon's sister Pauline; and those of Pauline's Haitian chamberlain Paul Moreau. But instead of providing depth, the effect is prismatic, a sort of bouncing off of light and understanding. In the end, it all seems a kind of gloss, the story itself failing to delve.

Maybe it was the prose. It moves so quickly, and though at times the descriptions of the palaces are lush (particularly when dealing with Pauline, who is obsessed with all things beautiful, including herself), there were plenty of times I did not get a real picture of where anyone was. The book is filled with conversations and interior dialogue, but the settings are often impressionistic. I don't remember ever thinking this of the other books I've read by Moran, but because it has been so long it may simply be that my tastes, the things I look for when reading, have changed.

Still and all, for someone like me with only the vaguest knowledge of Napoleon's rule, The Second Empress is quite instructive. Moran has done her homework, and her notes at the end of the book are worth reading as much as the novel. I did enjoy the book on the whole. And I will continue to read more by Michelle Moran.

1 comment:

sp said...

I'll just leave this here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsBrd3u1JZw