[identity profile] ephaistion85.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] revolution_fr
City of Darkness, City of Light
Marge Piercy

(Beware the spoilers!)



Overall judgment: 3/5

I promised some times ago to write my thoughts on this book, which I am doing now as I finally have time and as some weeks are passed from my reading (aka my head cooled down).
I appreciated the novel, but I didn't really enjoy it.

Historical facts: As far as my knowledge goes (which for some of the characters is quite superficial), it seems to me that the facts were quite well documented and well exsposed, at least in the first part. What I find slightly annoying was the heavy use of anecdotes / gossips drawn from mémoires and such without any innovative narration (but I guess that is more or less compulsory if you want to get your book published; more on this later).
I was a bit disappointed by the distribution of the historical facts - but that seems to be a tendency in French Revolution fiction- with much more attention put on the period before the Revolution and on the first years and less from 1793 onward. In the last part the fiction is too quick, too much `list style', it looks like the author engaged with the historical facts leaving her imagination aside.

Language and style: that's my main problem. I know in the preface the author talks about the struggle and decision she had to make regarding the style and the language…but in my opinion she pretty much failed at that. The language is very flat, characters are not very distinguished in their style/speech. Overall, it is all too modern. I mean, I do not pretend that a writer should precisely imitate the language of the described time, but at least s/he can create some sort of style that symbolizes it. In this book there is none of that and I found it quiet annoying. Moreover I found the general style really bland. In this sense, Hilary mantel's POGS was far well written. (on a side note: am I the only one to find the constant use of "Max" for Robespierre laughable? I don't know why, but immediately the image of an American 13 y.o. teenager came to my mind and I couldn't make it go away for the whole reading).
As for the use of memoirs: I understand that it is a great temptation and up to a point inevitable because these are the only sources for most of the characters' private lives and they should have some reality in it. However what an author must do is to take those events and, respecting their factuality, give to them her/his personal interpretation and twist, not merely re-telling them - which I felt Piercy did in the case of both Robespierre and Danton. There was no sparkling touch in most of the cases.

Narration and characters: I liked very much the first part of the book, especially the women's povs (I think those were the highlights of the book, although Manon becomes a bit shallow in the second part), probably because I know less about them, but also because the author seemed closer to them, empathizing in certain case. Condorcet's character is also quite good, I think Piercy gives a credible interpretation of his character; still sometimes he seems rather dull (especially in the end).
Two things disappointed me: the sex scene. I mean, do we really need to know about Danton's sexual activities? I don't, thank you. It is not a matter of decency, it is just that they look out of place to me and quite reader-service. Also I would have expected more strength irradiating from Danton's character.
Robespierre: at least he is not the monster here, although after the first two chapters on him I labelled him "Emo!pierre". Seriously, I think she gets a bit too much into `romantic' style depicting him, sometimes he looks as if he comes from Foscolo's Iacopo Ortis. I could have accepted this kind of characterization for Saint-Just, not for Robespierre, who definitely (imho) suits well with the rousseauvian sensibility.
Spoiler! Now the ending really got to my nerves and almost made me throw the book in rage. Yes, I mean the lesbian part. It was absolutely ill-conducted, cliché and out-of-character; also slightly offensive (the message, whether voluntarily or not, was `you became a lesbian after very bad experience with men' and also `feminists after all are lesbians'). Don't let me start it on the whole portrayal of the two women story/sexuality or I'll get on ranting forever. Also in the economy of the narration it was completely unnecessary and out-of-place.

Overall, not a bad book not a good book. I was expecting more than that, to be honest because I cannot be satisfied with a book that it is historical quite accurate, but leaves the entertainment aside.

So lovely people of the community, I hope some of you will write some short stories/ novels better than that!
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p.s. This week I just re-read some English academic books on the FR (I'm finishing the first draft of my article and my supervisor asked me to put some more `English stuff'on bibliography because the peer-reviewers will be British and will not like something based mostly on French/Italian books ..she probably not meant that I had to read them, but I am not good at faking). So basically I digested Fatal Purity and Lucifer!Hampson again (ok, I admit I just skipped over Schama's Citizens, couldn't really be bother to read it all twice). So fellow citizens, please suggest me a good/fairly recent academic book on the French Revolution (any aspect) that you like to recover.
p.s. 2 Anyone has read "Saint-Just: Sohn, Denker und Protagonist der Revolution"?
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