Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb
ARC, eBook, 320 pages
December 31, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Received from publisher for review as part of HFVBT tour
“A sweeping historical debut about the Creole socialite who transformed herself into an empress.
Readers are fascinated with the wives of famous men. In Becoming Josephine, debut novelist Heather Webb follows Rose Tascher as she sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris, eager to enjoy an elegant life at the royal court. Once there, however, Rose’s aristocratic soldier-husband dashes her dreams by abandoning her amid the tumult of the French Revolution. After narrowly escaping death, Rose reinvents herself as Josephine, a beautiful socialite wooed by an awkward suitor—Napoleon Bonaparte.”
I have heard a lot about Josephine in my time reading historical fiction, but I have not read a book about her – despite owning the trilogy by Sandra Gulland for several years now. My fascination has never been with fiction set in France nor Napoleon in general. However, I did find Josephine fascinating in Webb’s novel.
First of all, this woman was pretty amazing. She survived the French Revolution (just barely!), was successful as a businesswoman, was married twice, and was beloved by most of France. She had to reinvent herself so many times and continued to make her way in the world. I appreciated that she was a woman of substance and not entirely superficial. By contrast, I still very much dislike Napoleon – and I’m sure that is not because of the author’s portrayal of him, as she was fairly even handed with his characterization. Webb did an excellent job of getting into Josephine’s head.
Webb also did an excellent job creating a truly atmospheric France. In every scene I could clearly picture what has happening and what it looked like – from the beauty of pastoral Malmaison to the desecrated and vandalized Tulieries. You also can feel what the characters are experiencing as if you were there; one scene where they are hiding in the basement during The Terror and their fear stands out vividly in my mind.
One area that I thought could be stronger was the pacing of the novel. Toward the beginning of the novel it felt uneven. Very, very quickly we were introduced to the characters and events in Martinique and then moved on. I didn’t make the connections here with Josephine’s family and homeland/culture that I think was intended. Thus, I didn’t care much when tragedies struck
there. It was still a little awkward through her first marriage. The novel really found its stride around the Revolution. From that point it seemed smoother sailing.
Overall, I appreciated this perspective of Josephine as Webb really gets at her soul and character where I think many other authors gloss over her, especially her early life, choosing instead to focus on her time as wife of Napoleon. I would certainly recommend this book to fans of French history and those who want to know more about this woman.
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I also have a giveaway for US and Canada residents courtesy of the HFVBT tour. Make entries through the Rafflecopter below. Last day to enter is February 2nd, 2014. Good luck!
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