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.

buy is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.



Edward Carey

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-fairy tale 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 fairy tale is an inspiring one that shows what happens when a miniature person embodies a big talent and an outsized 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

keep reading

An ideal traveling companion must have a sense of adventure, a mostly cheerful outlook, and be willing to lead with her chin when times are tough — which means all of these memorable heroines are excellent company.
From majestic (Michelangelo's David) to silly (a can of SPAM) and everything in between (taxidermy! historical costumes!), museums are a fantastic place to get curious. These books do the same, no travel required.
Every Friday, we share our favorite book- and travel-related links. This week, we've got a punk rock graphic novel from Blondie, the antipodes map, the world's oldest book of English lit, thatched cottages, and more.
Every Friday, we share our favorite book- and travel-related links. This week, we've got a quiz on 'hello' around the world, muralist Bunnie Reiss, the reader-character relationship, Amor Towles' new novel, and more.
We've said it before, but it bears repeating: Paris is always a good idea. That's why we're recommending 13 books that are like a magic portal to Paris. Wouldn't you enjoy a virtual trip to the city by the Seine?
When you daydream about Paris, whatever sparkly, romantic images you conjure are not far off the mark. It is known, after all, as the City of Lights and the City of Love. In this episode, we wax poetic about Paris.

sharing is caring!

Wanna help us spread the word? If you like this page, please share with your friends.

our mission

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.

our patreon

Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.

get our newsletter

Join our Substack to get our FREE newsletter with podcast updates and behind-the-scenes info join in fun chats about books and travel.

no spoilers. ever.

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.

super-cool reading fun
reading atlas

This 30-page 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.

get our newsletter
Sign up for our free Substack!
follow us

Content on this site is ©2024 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.