Les Catacombes de Paris are not on my itinerary. Not ever.

A review of Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution combines the chaos of the modern world with that of Revolutionary France seamlessly. Twenty-first century Brooklyn is home to the extremely wealthy, the poor and destitute, and those somewhere in between, just trying to live their lives. Revolutionary France is also home to the extremely wealthy, the poor and destitute, and those just trying to keep their heads on. As far as I can tell, the primary differences between the two eras are indoor plumbing and proper cemeteries. Oh yeah, and the guillotine.

Revolution's main character, Andi, is a talented musician and high school senior at a posh Brooklyn private school hell-bent on destruction. Her little brother recently died in a tragic accident, her mother is teetering on the edge of sanity and her Nobel Prize winning father has focused on his career as a famous geneticist, forgoing all family obligations. Andi is at the point of being expelled from her school when her father decides to intervene and takes her to Paris to stay with family friends while he performs an important DNA test on what may be the remains of Louis-Charles, the "Lost Dauphin" of France.

While exploring artifacts destined for a museum dedicated to the Revolution, Andi uncovers a diary written by a young woman named Alex. Andi splits her time working on her senior thesis about French composer Amade Malherbeau and reading the diary, immersing herself in music and revolution. As with A Northern Light, Donnelly has a way with the gritty, grimy, gory details of historical fiction. Ordinary life in the early 1900s is exhausting, dirty, and murderous. Life in the 1790s is exhausting, dirty, and murderous, too. The level of disease, decapitation and dead bodies takes Revolution to an extremely foul level, but I couldn't tear myself away. I anticipate that the closest I will ever get to the French catacombs and the human remains housed there are on the pages of this book. I feel all weepy and sick to my stomach just thinking about it.

I've got two more things to say about this book: the featured 18th-century French composer Amade Malherbeau DOES NOT EXIST. I'm sure I wasn't the only reader checking iTunes for the "Fireworks Concerto." I googled and googled and googled some more and even went so far as to check WorldCat, assuming that this composer was real. Then I read an interview with the author where the question was laid to rest. Bummer.

And introducing a time travel element to a novel around page 400??? That's an odd choice, in my opinion, and I'm a reader who readily accepts time travel as an acceptable story device. Still, this is a fascinating look at life in Revolutionary France and it makes sense for Andi to see it first-hand. All in all, I think this book is pretty great, and I can't wait to read what Donnelly writes next.


I liked the old format.

Hi Gerard,
The new format will take some getting used to, but I think it's really great because it is now a part of our library website, as opposed to a separate blog on a separate server.

I wish Malherbeau was real. I REALLY wanted to hear that music!!!

Dear Bridgette - I KNOW!!!! I really wanted to hear that music, too.  Glad I'm not alone.