Saturday, April 12, 2014

"The Shadow Queen"

Sandra Gulland is the author of the Josephine B. Trilogy, internationally best-selling novels about Josephine Bonaparte which have been published in over seventeen countries. Her fourth novel, Mistress of the Sun (also published internationally) and her new novel, The Shadow Queen, are set in the 17th-century French Court of Louis XIV, the Sun King.

Gulland applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, The Shadow Queen, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Shadow Queen comes at a pivotal and dramatic moment in the narrative. Claudette, although young (21), is the true care-taker of her witless mother and special-needs younger brother. Their life has been one of hard-scrabble impoverishment, and Claudette has miraculously won a chance for her mother at theatrical employment. This is the opportunity she has been praying for, but her mother is resistant...
Mother had frights in the morning, of course. I made her a calming lemon balm to take with her morning gruel. “I’m putting your little Virgin in my bag,” I assured her, refreshing Gaston on proper etiquette: stand tall, at least try to lock eyes (he was so shy), dip with a sweep of his hat.
(Although Claudette's brother Gaston is 14, he is childlike mentally and emotionally. He is also—I must add—one of my very favorite characters.)
“Monsieur Corneille looks like a clerk, but he’s the greatest man in the land,” I said. “Treat him as if he were king.”

“Oh Mary!” Mother sighed, fanning herself with her chicken-feather fan (in spite of the bitter cold). The very mention of the Great Corneille stirred up her humors, put her in a state of profound disarray.
(Before Claudette was born, her mother and father had played in the first performance of The Cid by Corneille. Her mother had been a talented player, but her husband's death had "unhinged" her. Claudette is hoping that a return to the theater world will help cure her—as well as put food on the table.)
OUTSIDE, THE WORLD was frozen but bright. The sun was high, and everything seemed unearthly. Mother began dragging as we approached the theater, turning in a trance of memory. “I remember that shop. But oh, that’s new. Look how this tree has grown.”

I took advantage of her reverie to glide her through the theater doors, which had been propped open with a paving stone.

“This isn’t it,” she said, coming to a stop in the entry, her hands on her hips. “This isn’t the theater of the Marais.”

Now what? “Maman, this is the Marais.”

“It’s completely different, except for—” Mother gazed down at a star design set into the stone floor. “Except for this,” she said, running the toe of her boot over the points of the star. “This, I remember. Gaston, Claudette, look! Your father, he proposed to me ... right here. My beloved Nicolas stood on this very spot.” She blinked to keep back tears.

“It’s all that is left of the old theater.”

We turned, startled by a man’s voice. The Great Corneille was plainly dressed, still looking like a weary accountant whose sums didn’t add up.

I gestured to Gaston to wipe his chin as I sank into a curtsy.
And thus begins one of the enduring relationships of the novel.

I dedicated the novel in this way:
In memory of my father, Robert Zentner
(1917 — 2013)
whose lovable eccentricities are reflected
in several of the characters in this novel.
And those characters are Claudette's mother and the dear and oh-so-great Pierre Corneille. I love them dearly.
Visit Sandra Gulland's website.

--Marshal Zeringue