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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Farewell, My Queen

Chantal Thomas

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To purchase Farewell, My Queen

Title: Farewell, My Queen
Author: Chantal Thomas
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002
Length: 239 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Farewell, My Queen - US
Farewell, My Queen - UK
Farewell, My Queen - Canada
Les adieux à la reine - Canada
Les adieux à la reine - France
Leb wohl, meine Königin ! - Deutschland
Addio mia regina - Italia
Adios a la Reina - España
  • French title: Les adieux à la reine
  • Translated by Moishe Black
  • Awarded the Prix Fémina 2002
  • Farewell, My Queen was made into a film in 2012, directed by Benoît Jacquot and starring Diane Kruger and Virginie Ledoyen

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting perspective on The French Revolution

See our review for fuller assessment.

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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor A 12/6/2003 Ron Charles
The Guardian . 10/1/2004 Helen Falconer
New Statesman A 19/1/2004 Hilary Mantel
The NY Times Book Rev. . 31/8/2003 Alan Riding
The Spectator . 28/12/2002 Anita Brookner
The Washington Post A+ 24/8/2003 Zofia Smardz

  From the Reviews:
  • "Farewell, My Queen, which won France's prestigious Prix Femina, is hardly an apology for Marie-Antoinette, but it's a fascinating portrayal of the truly bizarre world in which she lived and the way people cling to untenable positions in the face of violent progress. (...) Wrapped in rapture at the queen's beauty, Laborde is, of course, a narrator of questionable reliability, but her guileless testimony provides a story steeped in dramatic irony." - Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor

  • "In language both vivid and elegant, the novel also captures the mood of panic that soon had servants and soldiers fleeing their posts, and nobles, clergy and hangers-on looking to save their skin. (...) Farewell, My Queen is more rich tableau vivant than thriller (after all, we do know what happened to the queen), but it would be a pity to reveal the end." - Alan Riding, The New York Times Book Review

  • "An unusual and unusually nostalgic look back at what was, by 1810, a vanished world, almost a feminine version of Saint-Simon, but singularly free of pastiche." - Anita Brookner, The Spectator

  • "Thomas gets the tone and feel of 18th-century court life uncannily right, even though her language, in Moishe Black's splendid translation, is unaffectedly modern and straightforward. (...) Farewell, My Queen is no ordinary historical novel. It's a bravura glimpse into a time past and a dreamlike life that seemed to have nowhere to go but into oblivion." - Zofia Smardz, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Farewell, My Queen is narrated by Agathe-Sidonie Laborde. She tells her story from the safety and distance of Vienna, in 1810 and 1811, but the bulk of her novel focusses on the tumultuous days in Versailles, 14 to 16 July, 1789. For eleven years Laborde lived at the Court of Versailles, an assistant reader to Queen Marie-Antionette ("a very minor office, made even less significant by the fact that the Queen had little taste for reading"). She looks back upon her last days there, setting out to tell her tale on her sixty-fifth birthday; even decades after leaving Versailles it and France remain always on her mind. In addition, she is particularly disturbed by how the Court she knew so well -- and her beloved and esteemed Queen -- are now ignored and unmentionable.
       Laborde describes her days at Versailles -- specifically those three fateful days. On 14 July 1789 -- the first day she recounts -- the Bastille was famously stormed, but in the royal fantasy-world that was Versailles life was going on practically as usual. It is only slowly that word of the events in Paris itself reaches the court, a hint of the scale found in the unbelievable: that someone dared to wake the King from his sleep (to bring him news of what had happened).
       Life as usual can not continue, and the disintegration of court-life -- focussed on appearance and rank and order, with everyone knowing their place and how they must act -- follows quickly. Laborde can make little sense of the upheavals around her, in part because they are simply unthinkable to her, in part also because information about what is actually occurring only slowly reaches Versailles. Laborde does what she can for the Queen in the evermore desperate hours as this world collapses around them, but eventually she can be of no more help, and she flees.
       Chantal Thomas does a remarkable job of conveying the fall of Versailles. The royal court is entirely dependant on rituals, standards, and many, many obsequious hangers-on and obedient and well-trained servants. When the world order is upset Versailles can no longer function -- though many still try to go through the (now clearly empty) motions. Nobles flee like rats from a sinking ship, and impudent commoners make ever-greater inroads into this once hallowed life. Laborde is shocked and outraged and uncomprehending: the events are largely unthinkable to her. But she is also, like all those who make up the royal entourage, powerless against the coming change. Decline and chaos encroach, overwhelm, and consume with wonderful ease.
       The historically well-versed Thomas revels in the details of court life, providing fine insight into the day-to-day workings of Versailles and the lives of the royals as well as all those who lived off of (or for) them. The disconnect with reality, and especially with the political turmoil raging all about, is convincingly presented. Yet in this true-to-life picture is also the weakness of the book: much of it seems too forced, the whole story merely an excuse to offer an inside-view of Versailles. And for all the drama there's too little convincing emotion. It is hard to care for these characters.
       Farewell, My Queen is also an odd book in that most readers come to it better informed of the outlines of what happened (if not the details) -- as well as what is to come -- than the narrator. (Even though Laborde looks back on events with full knowledge of what transpired afterwards, little of what was to come is taken into account in the sections set in 1789.) The story is so familiar that even this truly novel perspective (no one seems to have focussed so tightly on this small sliver of events previously) isn't an entirely gripping one.
       Farewell, My Queen is still an impressive achievement, if not entirely successful. Thomas writes expertly, but more with the mind of an historian than the heart of a novelist -- and it is ultimately as a piece professionally illuminating history (even if in fictional dressing) rather than a work of truly creative writing that the so-called novel distinguishes itself.

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Farewell, My Queen: Reviews: Farewell, My Queen - the film: Other books by Chantal Thomas under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chantal Thomas is the Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherches Scientifique. She has written numerous books.

© 2003-2021 the complete review

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