Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Review: Goddess by Kelly Gardiner

Now, I’ll confess that, growing up, I was a huge “The Three Musketeers” fan. I loved the books and read them over and over, laughing out loud at the most amusing parts. Therefore, while I have many other favourite historical eras, there’s just something about the 17th century France and romantic swashbuckling adventures that intrigues me. If you know me at all, you’ll know I also admire women with weapons... so when I first heard about Kelly Gardiner’s “Goddess”, I knew I had to read it.

“Goddess” is a story of Julie d’Aubigny, aka La Maupin, a 17th century swordswoman and a famous opera singer. She received an upbringing of a page, had various lovers, caused numerous scandals, fought duels (she was once challenged by three noblemen – for kissing a lady in a ballroom – and she beat them all), entered a convent only to be with her beloved and to elope with her, a deed for which she was condemned to death by fire... I could go on, but you get the idea: there’s more than enough material for a novel there.

The novel starts with Julie d’Aubigny confessing her sins to a priest on her deathbed. I was somewhat disappointed by this narrative device – it’s not exactly new and it deprives the story of some suspense (obviously; we know how it’s going to end). However, it does give the narrative a certain feel of doom, of tragedy.

And I’d bet Gardiner did that on purpose. La Maupin is an opera star, a diva. She compares life to a performance, a show. And the reader never forgets that. Her voice is dramatic and theatrical; her story certainly doesn’t lack in striking, intriguing events – and, knowing the outcome, the reader can’t escape the feeling that she is watching a tragedy. In addition, the story has been divided into acts and scenes rather than traditional chapters. Every other scene (“Recitative”) was narrated by Julie in first person, while every other scene (titled “A duet”, “The Ballet”, “Ensemble” etc.) employed a third person narrator.

These are interesting choices from the author, but unfortunately they made me feel like I was an audience: I was watching a performance rather than truly suffering and exulting and despairing and falling in love with Julie. That’s a pity, for she has so much potential to be an unforgettable heroine. She is bold, she is brave, she is confident, she is passionate, she is formidable – and fragile. Her vulnerability, though there, didn’t come through very well; perhaps that was a part of her act (show must go on), but I can’t help feeling that she might have made a more likeable heroine, had we seen more of that side of her.

Gardiner has clearly done a tremendous amount of research, even tracking down La Maupin’s opera performances etc. However, the stage setting leaves something to hope for. A little more historical detail would have easily fixed that.

I particularly enjoyed the author’s notes – the records concerning Julie d’Aubigny’s life are many and varied, yet there is much we don’t know about her. That makes her even more intriguing.


  1. Hi Ulla!

    It sounds like an interesting story, full of adventures, action and romance... It seems the author was experimenting with different ways to present the narrative (though nothing there is really new). The way you describe it makes me think that it seems ready to become a film (if it isn't already).

    (The girl on the cover seems familiar... Uh... hope they don't choose Keyra Knightley (again) if they ever make the film... :D)


    1. Hi i-user and thank you for your comment. :)

      Yes, this story would make a wonderful film - or, better yet, a TV series! As far as I know, there is at least one film about her, made in 1960s ("Madamigella di Maupin") and a TV movie/show from 2004 ("Julie, chevalier de Maupin"). I haven't seen either one of them, but from the plot description, they sound very different from the story in the novel (and from what I've read about Julie d'Aubigny).

      I'd be very keen to see a movie about her, but as for who should play her... I have no idea! Reading the book, I kept seeing Penelope Cruz as Julie, which doesn't make much sense (I do know she's not French). :)

    2. It's easier to imagine Penelope Cruz as a swordswoman than an opera singer, but I can understand why you kept thinking of her...
      (I don't know if it's only me, but I think the picture on the cover of the book is a mixture of both PC and KK. It would be great if they chose someone nice and new altogether... ;D)

    3. Yes, maybe it was the cover, I don't know... but a less well-known actress might be the best choice. And anyway, she ought to be fairly young - La Maupin was only 32 or 33 (I forget) when she died, so there is that. Not that movie makers generally care very much about such facts, though. :)

    4. As far as people in Hollywood tell, films are generally made having in mind a target composed basically of a male audience, between 18 and 25 years old (de facto or mentally!), as they seem to be ones who buy all the merchandise and are more likely to drag other consumers to the cinemas... So, based on that, we probably don't need to worry about the age of the actress playing the heroine: she'll be young enough!!! :D

    5. Haha! I'm afraid you're right... which means I really have no idea who could be cast as Julie. Somehow, I don't even recognise the young actresses (or actors) these days... :/

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  3. Taidan muistaa sinun olleen fani jo hyvin nuorena!
    Huomasithan haasteen blogissani muutama päivä sitten?
    Ihanaa kesäpäivän jatkoa!

    1. Varmasti tosiaan fanitin jo silloin... :D

      Täytyykin käydä katsomassa haaste heti!

      Ihania aurinkopäiviä sinne!