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Désirée by Anne Marie Selinko

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Misfit
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Désirée by Anne Marie Selinko

Post by Misfit » Tue April 7th, 2009, 12:29 am

But for the fact that she went to get her brother out of jail....

Bernardine Eugénie Désirée Clary, a wealthy silk merchant's daughter, would not have met young impoverished Napoleon Bonaparte and how different her life might have been. Enchanted by the young officer, she invites him and his brother Joseph to her home - where Joseph finds himself attracted to her sister Julie and her very generous dowry. Still too young to wed at fourteen, she and Napoleon are engaged, but the older Joséphine de Beauharnais has something to say about that. Although heartbroken, Désirée recovers and eventually marries French General Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, although he spends much of their marriage away from Paris in service to the now Emperor of France. Eventually Bernadotte is nominated to become Crown Prince of Sweden, and subsequently King with Désirée as its reluctant Queen.

Written in diary format from Désirée's POV, her story give the reader an inside glimpse at the young Napoleon and his family, through his opulent days as Emperor lavishing gifts and titles on his family, on to his final defeat at Waterloo. As interesting as much of this history was, I found myself snoozing off at times as the author lost me with a too busy cast of characters, too many of which were always called "your royal highness" and nothing else that I had a hard time following who was who. Worse yet, the diary format really painted the author into quite a corner and she had a hard time getting herself out of it at times - frankly she fell out of that corner on more than one occasion. Writing in your diary and you quote verbatim a long long letter from your son? I don't think so. If you're a big fan of anything and everything Napoleonic and want to read more I'd go for it, but definitely not for a first time reader of this period in France's history. 3/5 stars.
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...is the only place I want to be

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Miss Moppet
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Post by Miss Moppet » Tue June 2nd, 2009, 12:57 pm

My mother gave me an old Boots Booklovers Library copy of Desiree to read when I was about 14, but for some reason it's taken me 20 years to get round to it. I wish I hadn't left it so long because I think I would have enjoyed it much more as a teenager. Desiree's is an amazing true story, the background of Napoleonic France is scintillating, and I liked the privileged insider view of (for example) Napoleon's coronation. But I agree the diary format was somewhat contrived (inevitably?), and I got tired of the way Desiree would start an entry with something startling or intriguing, then write a long flashback to explain it. Also, you got the impression that neither Napoleon nor anyone else made a move without a long confidential discussion with Desiree first.

I found myself wondering why exactly this book was such a huge success. I think the answer lies partly in the period it came out. Desiree, who marries young and prefers domesticity to palace life, is truly a heroine for the 1950s - I think Annemarie Selinko had to put a lot of spin on the story of Desiree's marriage in order to conform to the conventions of the day.

This made me want to re-read Norah Lofts' A Rose for Virtue, which deals with the same period from the point of view of Josephine's daughter, Hortense. I found it much better than I remembered - stylish and insightful. I wouldn't recommend Desiree as highly as that, but nevertheless I think it's a must-read for anyone interested in Napoleon's circle.

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Post by boswellbaxter » Tue June 2nd, 2009, 1:03 pm

[quote=""Miss Moppet""] Also, you got the impression that neither Napoleon nor anyone else made a move without a long confidential discussion with Desiree first.

[/quote]

That's what drove me crazy about this novel. I realize that the author wanted to keep her character busy, but geez!
Susan Higginbotham
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Post by Misfit » Tue June 2nd, 2009, 1:58 pm

This is one of those books where I'm looking at all the rave reviews on Amazon and I'm just sitting there scratching my head and asking "why"?
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Post by Miss Moppet » Tue June 2nd, 2009, 2:10 pm

[quote=""Misfit""]This is one of those books where I'm looking at all the rave reviews on Amazon and I'm just sitting there scratching my head and asking "why"?[/quote]

Well, I have to wonder if it's related to the backlash against feminism. Desiree, like Philippa Gregory's Mary Boleyn, is focused on home and family, with very little ambition for herself. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it could be what makes her attractive to contemporary audiences. By contrast, in the 1930s and 1940s (and 1980s) scheming, ruthless characters like Scarlett O Hara and Forever Amber won millions of readers. I'm probably over-simplifying, but it's a thought.

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Post by Misfit » Tue June 2nd, 2009, 2:56 pm

Sometimes I think that people rave about a book because they think they are supposed to, i.e. everyone else "loves it" so they must as well. I find myself sitting outside the box quite often though so perhaps it's just me :o :confused:
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

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Post by Misfit » Tue June 2nd, 2009, 3:04 pm

This made me want to re-read Norah Lofts' A Rose for Virtue
Thank you. Library has this one so I think I'll give it a whirl. I haven't had the greatest luck with Lofts and wanted to try one or two more before giving up entirely.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

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Post by EC2 » Tue June 2nd, 2009, 5:19 pm

Thanks for the review Misfit. Probably not one for me at the moment.... :)
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

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Post by LoisAnn » Wed June 3rd, 2009, 6:42 pm

[quote=""Miss Moppet""]My mother gave me an old Boots Booklovers Library copy of Desiree to read when I was about 14, but for some reason it's taken me 20 years to get round to it. I wish I hadn't left it so long because I think I would have enjoyed it much more as a teenager.[/quote]

You are exactly right! I did read this book as a teen-ager and loved it!! Reading about a young girl who lost her first love to an older woman (oh, the sorrow & injustice of it!), but later married a General whom she loved (all good things come to those who wait) only to eventually become the Queen of Sweden (take that, Josephine!) really tugged on my youthful, romantic, teen-age spirit.

In those days, historical accuracy fell a far distant second to the dashing & dare & romance of a story. Pleased to say, I have matured & my tastes are now a bit more discerning ... :rolleyes: But there will always be a soft spot in my heart for those books that helped me fall in love with history and with historical fiction and Desiree is among this group!
Last edited by LoisAnn on Thu June 4th, 2009, 3:01 am, edited 1 time in total.
I've never known any trouble that an hour's reading didn't assuage. ~ Charles de Secondat

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Post by LCW » Wed June 3rd, 2009, 10:37 pm

I have this book to read but I think it just got pushed way down Mt. TBR for now. Thanks for the review, Misfit!
Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
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How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them. --Arnold Lobel

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