It’s Marie Antoinette overload this fall: Sofia Coppola’s movie, starring Kirsten Dunst, is set to open later this month, and not one but two big books about her are arriving in stores. Historians are reassessing the French queen and generally regarding her in a more sympathetic light (for example, ”Let them eat cake!” is now widely understood to have been uttered by someone else).
Abundance, a lavish, richly dressed epic told in the first person, begins with 14-year-old Marie’s journey to meet her future husband, the French dauphin who will become Louis XVI, and ends some 539 pages later, as the guillotine blade sails down upon her shorn neck.
It isn’t easy to marry historical research with fiction, and I’ve found some of Sena Jeter Naslund’s other novels, like 1999’s Ahab’s Wife, tediously dry. But not Abundance. I was completely inside Marie Antoinette’s overly poufed head as she matured from a sheltered teenager (the people ”would like to eat me up, as though I were sugared fruit”) into a savvy young woman whose machinations dominated the court, her impotent husband, and her Swedish lover. Naslund’s writing is opulent and fabulous, as encrusted with detail as one of Marie’s shimmering dresses, and the story itself is a complete page-turner — which is no small feat given that its ending is known all along.