Thursday, October 13, 2011
I don't usually do this, but I'm just going to throw out a disclaimer right here and now. I did not enjoy this book. This is entirely my opinion, and I'm sure others will find it more enjoyable than I did, but this was definitely not m cup of tea.
I struggled with reading Before Versailles by Karleen Koen for was seemed like eons. My favorite historical figure has been Louis XIV for as long as I knew about him. His court, his lifestyle, and his relationships are all fascinating to me. I would love to visit Versailles today. I've previously enjoyed other, non-fiction, works on the sun king (including Love and Louis XIV), so I was really excited about this book. I've been reading historical fiction since I was a kid- my favorite novels were Royal Diaries (no, not the ones by Meg Cabot), and later, I also really enjoyed Philippa Gregory's works. I haven't delved into that literary world in quite some time, so I was really excited about this book.
I think my main problem was the lack of cohesiveness in terms of point of view. The novel jumps to different characters without any real warning. One minute, you're in the head of Louise, the supposed main character of the novel, the next, you're in Louis XIV, or Phillip his brother, or Henriette his wife. It's incredibly confusing and chaotic. The overall story lines weren't difficult to follow, but it was incredibly jarring for such point of view switches.
Honestly, I felt it was incredibly amateur, which is something I found surprising considering how many praises I had read about this author for her earlier works.
Because of the point of view changes, it was incredibly difficult to get attached to any of the characters. Louise was annoying, and incredibly Mary Sue in my opinion. I really enjoyed her initial innocence, especially her shock in dealing with her flamboyant cousin. However, as time wore on, she neglected to either appropriately lose that innocence, or retain enough of it to be really believable. Instead, the author left Louise at an uncomfortable middle ground that failed to really bring a dynamic quality to her character.
The allusions to homosexuality and cross dressing were incredibly awkward, in my opinion. While Phillip was actually known to engage in both, I felt it was handled rather awkwardly in the novel- almost like it was there for pure shock value. I really enjoyed Louis' interactions with his brother Phillip and the boy in the iron mask, especially in regard to Phillip's masochistic and heartbroken character. The way Louis treats both characters was a great dynamic.
I also really enjoyed the fact that there are little allusions to other literary works and myths scattered throughout the novel. That was one of the redeeming qualities. However, I absolutely hated how the author portrayed Athenais. She was derogatory enough to make it unrealistic, and gave her an awkward part in the book- too large to be a cameo and too small to really fit her future importance.
Ultimately, however, I was incredibly bored with this novel, despite the great ideas. Because of that disconnect with the characters, I had a hard time following what was going on. I'm going to give this a big thumbs down. However, I've heard great things about another one of Koen's novels, so I might investigate that whenever I next get the historical fiction bug. However, I won't hesitate to abandon that book if I decide it's as hard to get into as this one was.