Not everyone can meet the high expectations Hilary Mantel raised for historical novels. In Francine du Plessix Gray’s fictionalized history of Marie Antoinette’s Swedish lover, Count Axel von Fersen – The Queen’s Lover – the history outshines the fiction.
Although historians cannot agree on the extent of intimacy in the relationship between the Swedish aristocrat and the famous French Queen, the rumors could provide the basis for the possibilities that Gray creates. The Count is historically famous for fighting in the American Revolution and for his escape plan for the imprisoned French royals, which fails. Gray uses letters written by the Count and by Marie Antoinette that have been recently recovered, and the letters are sometimes more compelling than the fictional prose. Despite the drama of the beheading, Marie Antoinette’s final letter is the focal point.
As an education into the details of the French Revolution and the backstory of royal intrigues, the book offers a tedious accounting, and the connection between the imagined and the real never quite connected for me. I think I’ve been spoiled by Hilary Mantel.
Review of Mantel’s: Bring Up the Bodies