In the beginning of Abundance, Sena Jeter Naslund's astonishing, richly imagined novel, 14-year-old Maria Antonia stands naked on an island in the Rhine River, neutral territory between her Austrian homeland and France. Poised to marry the heir to the French throne, the princess must shed every thread of her Austrian existence and be remade into Marie Antoinette, future Queen of France.
It's a fitting metaphor for a woman who would spend the rest of her life in the prying public eye. Long before Princess Diana was chased by paparazzi, Marie Antoinette gave birth to her first child in front of hundreds of people and was dressed and bathed each day by bickering noblewomen. Tabloid-like pamphlets filled with false allegations of the queen's scandalous sexual escapades regularly papered the streets of Paris.
Bolstered by meticulous research and delivered in glowing prose, Abundance reminds us why Marie Antoinette remains one of history's most beguiling, contradictory women. Naslund, the author of the bestseller Ahab's Wife, digs deep into the queen's story, exploring her loving yet ultimately unfulfilling marriage to the ineffective King Louis XVI and her often frivolous pastimes, including a serious gambling addiction. We all know how this story ends, yet Abundance will have you holding your breath until the final march to the guillotine.