Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Goddess by Kelly Gardiner

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Versailles, 1686: Julie d'Aubigny, a striking young girl taught to fence and fight in the court of the Sun King, is taken as mistress by the King's Master of Horse. Tempestuous, swashbuckling and volatile, within two years she has run away with her fencing master, fallen in love with a nun and is hiding from the authorities, sentenced to be burnt at the stake. Within another year, she has become Mademoiselle de Maupin, a beloved star at the famed Paris Opéra. Her lovers include some of Europe's most powerful men and France's most beautiful women. Yet Julie is destined to die alone in a convent at the age of 33.

Based on an extraordinary true story, this is an original, dazzling and witty novel - a compelling portrait of an unforgettable woman.

For all those readers who love Sarah Dunant, Sarah Waters and Hilary Mantel.

It’s always fun to read about strong women through history who’ve left their mark on the world. I had never heard of Julie d’Aubigny until I came across Goddess. She was a dichotomy - a woman well before her time who played up her femininity when it suited her but who wasn’t going to be held back simply because she was a woman. She enjoyed her notoriety and was simultaneously reviled and admired.

Julie’s story is told from two angles: her point of view as she “confesses” her many sins to a priest who comes to visit her on her deathbed. I use the term “confess” loosely here because she’s merely giving her side of her story. The other side of her story is told in third person. I enjoyed Goddess overall but I did have some trouble keeping up with the two POVs. When told in her voice, d'Aubigny tends to ramble, which is understandable as she’s gravely ill and struggles to stay focused. However, even on her deathbed she’s as feisty and cheeky as ever. I felt that once I got comfortable with the rhythm of her narrative, it would then switch gears and I’d have to adjust to the other POV. But that's just me.

Regardless, I was still fascinated by Julie’s life and her courageousness in being true to her convictions. Considering the limitations on women back then, even she knew at the tender young age of 13 that becoming a mistress to one of the most prominent men in Paris would be her ticket out of her oppressive household. She also knew her way around a sword, never turning down a challenge for a duel and besting many men while at it. After all, she learned from her father, a proficient swordsman himself. D'Aubigny later fulfilled her dream to become a celebrated opera singer. Throughout her short life, she never let herself be victimized by her circumstances, seizing opportunities that presented themselves and employing her sexual ambiguity to her advantage in many instances. 

With plenty of material to derive from d’Aubigny’s real life, Goddess is an unforgettable glimpse into the life of a remarkably charismatic woman who attracted as many people to her as she did heartache and scandals. I would love to see this come alive as a movie because I think everyone should know about this unapologetic, indomitable 17th century heroine who never compromised herself. Julie d'Aubigny definitely had attitude and I am rather in awe of her.

~ Bel

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