Monday, December 24, 2012

The Pale Assassin by Patricia Elliott

I was first drawn to Patricia Elliott's  "The Pale Assassin" by it's beautiful cover, and I do appreciate attractive book designs. Set in the years and days leading up to the French Revolution and featuring a character called le Fantome and since the Recommender is all ablout that other Phantom I was intrigued by this one. Instead of living in the cellars below the Paris Opera, this Fantome lurks about spying on aristocrats. The book begins with him (real name Raoul Goullet) having been bested at gambling and humiliated by the marquis Sebastion de Boncouer. He later arrives at the marquis's estate to kill him but is, again, thwarted and vows vengence. Sebastion has a small child, a girl, Eugenie. This gives le Fantome an idea.  He will destroy the marquis AND his family.
10 years later, as Eugenie de Boncouer and her governess are making their way through Paris during a demonstration they are offered safety and a ride in a carriage by a gentleman. Raoul Goullet. Neither he nor Eugenie recognizes the other. Eugenie scrutinizes the man who has helped them. He is cold and pale and his hands are covered by black gloves. He studies the girl. Though he himself might not be attractive he has a great love for beautiful things and Eugenie reminds him of his collection of precious china figurines, the largest and most valuable in all of Paris.
He asks their destination and when Hortense, the governess, tells him... she notices a change in his eyes, for now he knows who Eugenie is. "He had been watching her older brother for some time, and now, fate had brought him the sister. She was young, now, but one day she would grow up. He had only to wait..."
Wait for what Eugenie will learn, later, as we get to know our heroine, a spoiled young aristocrat living at the estate of her elderly guardian, and mingling in upscale circles though those in the upper classes are growing increasingly nervous because change is in the air and the poor and downtrodden wish for equality and bread and jobs. Her brother and his friends have sympathy for the King and Queen but these are dangerous times and the guillotine has recently been invented and looms as a way to deal with enemies of the people. Eugenie is willfull and defies the common sense advice she recives to lay low and attends a party where she meets a very attractive aristocrat, Guy Deschamps, with whom she is much taken. What happens to Eugenie as she struggles to survive in a changing world and will she, her brother and his friends change with it or stay true to the crown, is something you will have to find out for yourself. The French Revolution was a thrilling time in history and the author captures the turmoil of the streets very well. This book is, of course, recommended and there is a sequel,and, yes, the Recommender does have some sympathy for Le Fantome, and will be looking forward to reading it...very soon!

Speaking of France and revolutions, Les Miz (or Les Mis, if you prefer!)opens tomorrow! The Daily Beast ran this today, the French Revolution for Dummies. Quite informative!

And, below, a quick French history lesson by way of youtube and the brilliant Peter Brooks film with a very long title which is often encapsulated as "Marat/Sade". It stars the Royal Shakespeare Company featuring Patrick Magee as the marquis de Sade,who, while imprisoned in an insane asylum, spends his time writing plays for the amusement of the asylum director, his family and guests who come to watch the inmates perform them. Ian Richardson is an inmate playing the radical journalist Jean-Paul Marat and a lovely young Glenda Jackson as another inmate playing Charlotte Corday, Marat's assassin. If you haven't seen it, it is one of the best plays of all  time with some pretty catchy brecht/weilian style music.

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