This fictionalized biography of Madame Tussaud (448 pages) was published in October of 2018 by Riverhead Books. The book takes you to 18th-century Paris. Melissa read Little and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
This is the (mostly) true story of a tiny girl who grew up to be the diminutive but fierce Madame Tussaud, she of wax museum fame. Her story begins in a Swiss village and takes us to the Monkey House in Paris, the Palace of Versailles, and a prison during the French Revolution — all in the company of uncanny figures made of wax.
We know from the start that this put-upon child (think Jane Eyre or Anne Shirley: bright, downtrodden, afraid, but fiery) will find fame and success. So this darkly humorous, almost-fairytale is a twisty exploration of the why and the how.
After her parents’ deaths, Marie, a.k.a., Little, is apprenticed to a wax sculptor in Paris. The streets are muddy. The house creeks and is always cold. And her adopted ‘family’ is dominated by a tyrannical widow determined to exclude Little from all human comforts and affection.
As Little and her guardian, the real-life physician and wax sculptor Dr. Philippe Curtius, gain notoriety for their waxworks, she finds herself among famous Parisians, including the author Louis-Sébastien Mercier and Princess Elizabeth, the sister of Louis XVI. For a brief, glowing moment, Little is on her way to being the toast of the town.
But fortunes change quickly when one is associated with a royal court. And soon, Little finds herself back in the muck of the hoi polloi.
Like an Edward Gorey illustration transformed into a novel, this is a delightfully macabre romp through 18th-century Paris. What else could it be when severed heads, both waxen and fleshy, play such a prominent role in the plot?
Little is a heroine to root for. Her life’s grim and grimy fairytale is an inspiring one that shows what happens when a miniature person embodies a big talent and an outsize dose of grit.
For this is true: Curtius, in his great hall, has abolished privilege! Curtius has dismissed all laws of etiquette. Curtius has done away with class. Where else in the world might a pauper approach a king? Might the mediocre touch genius? Might ugliness draw close — without shame — to beauty? The Cabinet is the only place. — Edward Carey
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page 2020 Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is © 2020 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.