The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (Review: Revolution; J. Donnelly)

Jennifer Donnelly
Bloomsbury 2010

Andi lives in New York and is dealing with the emotional turmoil of her younger brother's accidental death. Alex lives in Paris and is a companion to the dauphin, the young son of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, during the violent days of the French Revolution. When Andi is sent to Paris to get her out of the trouble she's so easily enveloped by in New York, their two stories collide, and Andi finds a way to reconcile herself not only to her past but also to her future. This is a wrenchingly beautiful, evocative portrait of lives torn apart by grief and mended by love. (blurb courtesy of Amazon)

As I have mentioned before, I don't really read much historical fiction. I was, however, nearly converted to the cause after reading Donnelly's A Gathering Light (review here) and her new book, Revolution, has done more to convince me. If nothing else, I am absolutely a convert to Jennifer Donnelly as Revolution is one of the best books that I have read in a long, long time.

Set mainly between contemporary Paris and the Paris of the French revolution of 1879, the story charts periods in the lives of modern day Andi and latter day Alexandrine. As protagonists they are both exceptionally strong. Andi is a whirlwind of grief and anger, actively pushing her pain out into the world to hurt others, her only solace being found in her beloved guitar. While it is instantly clear that she blames herself for the recent death of her younger brother it is unclear exactly why this is and Andi lurches from bad to worse often teetering on the brink of suicide, surviving only due to luck and her excessive use of prescription drugs. Her main aim, it would seem, is to escape. Her discovery of Alex's diary provides that escape, albeit to a dark and violent world. While Andi is, at times, a frustrating character to read, her inward-looking torment is so viscerally written that she got right under my skin. While I was more sure of Alex's story and how it might end, I can honestly say that I had no idea what would happen to Andi.

Alex is equally strong as a character. Her sections of Revolution are in diary form and written in an entirely different tone – one that has a very distinctive French tone in the sentence structure and imagery. Her story is extraordinary. Due to a series of chance encounters she gains the favour of Marie-Antoinette during the run up to the revolution and finds herself as companion to the young prince, Louis-Charles. Through her eyes we see first hand the bloody taking of Versaille and the fate of its inhabitants. Alex is driven, strong and caring yet also conflicted, often seeming confused by her own motivations. This confusion and self-doubt lead her to extremes of action that are both dramatic, desperate and admirable. The story regarding herself and Louis-Charles is so moving that I found myself hoping that the author had taken liberties with history in some way – there are certainly many instances in Revolution where it seems like she might allow Louis-Charles the ending that he deserved but you will have to read to find out where Donnelly takes both his and Alex's story. There are twists and turns that I could never have seen coming.

I cannot think of the last time that I encountered such skilled storytelling as that which I have found in Revolution. Jennifer Donnelly is gifted in her ability not only to immerse the reader in history but also to write stunning contemporary fiction. As well as Andi and Alex's narratives, running through the books are the story of (fictitious, I think) composer Malherbeau and also the tracking of DNA tests on a heart reported to be that of Louis-Charles (non-fictitious and a fascinating story for those looking for further reading). Both of these story lines help to meld the modern and latter day aspects of the story together and are interesting in their own right. I was also extremely moved by the portrayal of the French royal family and their complete ignorance and innocence – they truly had little idea of what was going on and certainly had their faults, yet were still a family as bound by love as any other. Revolution is a beautiful, tragic, exciting book that has stayed with me in the days since I finished it. It muses on themes of love and loss but mostly on the futility and also the inevitability of war, suggesting that wishing for the world to change is useless but enabling change within yourself entirely possible and worthwhile. Revolution may make you laugh, it most certainly will make you cry and above all it will leave you with much to think about – I cannot recommend this title highly enough.

Revolution is released on 13th October (UK) – many thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this title to review. There is a blog tour for Revolution taking place this week with interviews, information and more - please check out the button on my sidebar to find out who will be hosting the tour and be sure to go along and have a look!


Dot said…
Great review! I am about halfway through this book and loving it!
Unknown said…
This one sounds awesome. Off to add it to the wishlist. Terrific review :D
Man, did I ever tell you that I really wish I could write reviews the way you do? You've got such a wonderful way of bringing the characters and story to life that it almost feels as if I've already read the story. I am really looking forward to reading this - even more so after your review.

P.S. I see your review of Claire de Lune is up. going to read it over the weekend and then come back to comment on it then :)
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