Kathryn Davis makes use of a clever narrative device in this, her fifth novel: she allows Marie Antoinette’s soul to speak. This ghostly narrator is a detached thing, an omniscient spirit possessing wisdom the doomed queen rarely exhibited. Davis invites us to listen to the queen’s innermost thoughts, and yet the use of this point of view allows enough emotional distance to avoid the melodrama, the pity, and perhaps the contempt that the reader may have felt, had Marie Antoinette herself told the sad and familiar tale.
Davis is clearly an ingenious and masterful writer. At times, her spirit-narrator is coy. Is the soul a truthful teller of the tale? Will she tell us if Count Fersen was ever the queen’s lover? This spirit is also mischievous. Several chapters of the book are sly little plays, ‘written’ by the queen, in deference to her love of theater. Even the transitions between chapters are cunning.
Davis expects much from her readers. For lovers of 18th century French history, the novel is an absolute feast of allusions and understatements. Those less familiar with the history may dislike the lack of historical detail, and become confused by all that has been left unsaid. Versailles is best read as a smart historical-literary-commercial novel about one ordinary woman’s journey through an extraordinary life. Highly recommended.