Monday, July 14, 2014

Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness

The title: Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness
The author: Sheila Kohler
Publication: Bantam, 1994
Got it from: Book sale, 2011

Happy Bastille Day!

By coincidence, I have just finished reading Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness.  It's set during the time of the French Revolution, a time I always enjoy visiting, despite the rather gruesome realities.  The story is of one Lucy Dillon, a fictional biography of the real-life Henriette-Lucy, Marquise de La Tour du Pin Gouvernet.   Her mother is a favourite of Marie Antoinette and young Lucy herself visits court, hobnobbing with French nobility at Versailles and in Paris.  In her early twenties, the Revolution breaks out and she is forced to flee to America with her husband and young children.

The narrative is divided between Lucy's travels on board the ship crossing the Atlantic and flashbacks to her life of (caged) privilege back in France.  The story really picks up when the Revolution does.  The strength of the book lies with seeing how dramatic the day-to-day change was for an aristocrat before and after the Revolution.  The ordered world suddenly collapsed, leaving chaos and uncertainty on an unprecedented scale.  For many watching their friends and family members die at the guillotine, it must have felt like the world was ending.

Interestingly, the author chooses to paint Lucy as an unhappy victim of her circumstances.  It is only when she arrives in America that she gets to take control of her own destiny, becoming an ambitious dairy farmer in the Hudson River Valley.  This part of the story is very different than the 4/5ths of the book before it, now that Lucy is no longer a pawn in someone else's scheme.  Without spoiling the ending, it did leave something to be desired and I felt the narrative should have wrapped up differently.  However, it was a fascinating look at an absolutely fascinating time in history.

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