Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness
Upon occasion a reviewer is familiar with the source material for a fictional biographical novel, and therefore dreads the transformation from actual to imagined history. Readers of Madame La Tour du Pin’s magnificent memoir need not be concerned, for Kohler exquisitely and creatively depicts Lucy Dillon’s life and times, tracing her history from the Court of Versailles to a humble farm in America.
A descendant of the Catholic Irish Wild Geese who sought refuge in France, Lucy is raised by her cruel grandmother. During her early years she lives on the periphery of the French court—maturity thrusts her into that scandalous world. A matrimonial pawn, she has the good fortune to marry an admirer of her soldier father. Frédéric is a nobleman, one capable of appreciating and adoring his bride. But for this hopeful couple there can be no happily ever after—married life begins as the sparks of revolution begin to flare. The riots, the executions, the loss of friends are revealed through Lucy’s perceptive and pragmatic mind. When her husband goes into hiding, she disguises herself as a citoyenne in a rural area, bearing a daughter while a suspicious mob rages on her doorstep, carefully planning an escape.
With their son and infant daughter, Lucy and Frédéric sail to America on a dodgy vessel to embark upon an uncertain and unfamiliar life. Lucy rises to the occasion, stocking and managing the Hudson Valley farm that her husband eventually purchases, proudly marking her butter molds with the family crest. She thrives on exile, but it reduces her loving Frédéric to a nostalgic, displaced aristocrat. In the aftermath of domestic tragedy they embark on yet another journey, each harboring different feelings about it.
Anyone seeking quality historical fiction will welcome the publication of this poignant, powerful novel.