Let them read this
Intensive research breathes passion
into life and times of Marie Antoinette
By J. Rentilly
LESS THAN A decade ago, despite four well- at the feet of Eve—did exhaustive research for
reviewed books to her credit, Sena Jeter Naslund Abundance, reading countless volumes on Antoin-was lost in a literary wasteland, her soulful, melliflu- ette, studying letters between the young queen and
ous prose failing to capture readers in any great her mother (“To get a sense of her voice,” Naslund
number. Then Naslund,who founded and edits The says) and visiting locations key to the young
Louisville Review, a 30-year-old literary journal woman’s adventures during the French Revo-based in her home state of Kentucky, remembered lution. These included Versailles and the prison in
Charles Dickens. which Antoinette was jailed.
“How was it that Dickens was able “Research can be something you
to be very widely read and at the same get lost in,” says Naslund, “but I really
time write novels of lasting literary enjoy it. I especially love doing what I
merit?” Naslund reflects. “I decided I call ‘body research,’ which is to use my
would try to do that: write an accessi- own five senses to get an idea of what
ble,immediatestory—anovelin which life was like for my characters. How
many things happened—that also had does the wind blow there? What do
valuable and lasting literary merit.” you smell? What’s the particular shade
Naslund’s first attempt at merging of green? What flowers are there? What
commercial and critical considera- shapes are the gardens? My job is to
tions was 1999’s Ahab’s Wife, a stun- make all of this information live, not to
ning novel that revealed the voice of report it in a dusty, archival manner.”
the complex woman who loved Moby Sena Jeter Naslund Indeed, among the abundant tri-Dick’s nefarious Captain Ahab. It was umphs of Abundance are its vivid sen-followed by Four Spirits, an urgent, deeply felt story suality, its spirited intimacy and the awesome
of four disparate characters caught up in the civil- accessibility of its main character.
rights movement in the South. With two sure- “I believe in fiction as a technique, a mode, that
handed novels, Naslund moved from literary allows the reader to go inside another person, unlike
obscurity to the grand marquee, winning over major oneself. Imagination is, and has always been, a great
critics and selling half a million books in the process. moral and spiritual force. It takes us beyond our-
This month’s Book Buyer’s Pick is Naslund’s selves and to the interior of others. I think that’s
Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette, a lush, meaningful to us as human beings,” she says. “And
first-person account of the torrid, courageous life it’s really the reason I write.” C
of Marie Antoinette, a historical character suddenly thrust again—with Sofia Coppola’s feature
film and several other Antoinette-related books—
into the Zeitgeist.
“I see all of these approaches to Marie
Antoinette as being complementary of each other.
Films, for example, show us her life through the lens
of the camera’s eye, and fiction takes you inside a
character, so we’re looking out through her eyes,
instead of at her. When you put those two things
together, you have an essentially complete picture,”
Naslund tells The Connection. “Also, I think we are
interested in this woman today because she lived in
an era known as the Reign of Terror. Of course, terror is a big aspect of our lives these days. Perhaps it
is interesting and instructive to see how Marie
Antoinette met with the threats of her time.”
Naslund—who believes historians have made
a scapegoat of Antoinette, blaming her for the fall
of the French monarchy, much the way responsibility for the degradation of mankind has been laid
I’M A CLOSET history
buff, and proud of it. It’s
not that I enjoy rattling off
dates of important events.
Rather, my weakness is
for the stories of people
whom I’ll never get any
closer to than through the
pages of a book.
This month’s pick,
Sena Jeter Naslund’s
Abundance: A Novel of
Marie Antoinette, is an
example of the kind of
book that feeds my interest in historical fiction.
it’s a first-person account of the young
queen’s life—from her
arrival in Versailles to her
time spent in prison.
Abundance is available at most warehouses
and at costco.com. C
J. Rentilly is a Los Angeles–based journalist who
writes about film, music and literature.
COSTCO HAS 10 autographed copies
of Sena Jeter Naslund’s Abundance: A
Novel of Marie Antoinette to give away.
To enter, print your name, membership number, address and daytime
phone number on a postcard or letter
and send it to: Abundance, The
Costco Connection, P.O. Box 34088,
Seattle, WA 98124-1088; or fax it to
Entries must be
received or postmarked by midnight, December 1,
2006. Void where
prohibited. Employees of Costco
and their families are not eligible.
Winners will be notified by mail.
One entry per household.
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