FICTION Nightmares and wax
NICK RENNISON is drawn in by a macabre but mesmerising novel inspired by the early life of Madame Tussaud
Little by Edward Carey Aardvark Bureau, 430 pages, £10.99
In 1761, Anne Marie Grosholtz is born in a remote village in Alsace. When she is six years old, Marie’s mother takes her to Berne to join the household of the eccentric Doctor Curtius, a sculptor who creates wax models of the human body, its inner organs, and the effects of disease on them, for the city hospital. After her mother’s death, the young Marie is left as Curtius’s ward to learn the secrets of his macabre craft. When the doctor falls foul of the hospital authorities and departs Berne for Paris, she accompanies him.
In the French capital, the diminutive girl, now dubbed ‘Little’, finds life difficult. Tormented by her overbearing landlady and forced into a menial role, Marie is rescued only by a chance encounter and her own gifts as a wax sculptor. She is invited to become a tutor to Louis XVI’s sister and experiences the wonders of the palace at Versailles. She and the princess become bosom companions, before royal whim and the machinations of court life send Marie back to Curtius.
Revolution is now in the offing and, when it arrives, Marie and her mentor can survive the bloodshed only by casting waxworks from the heads of those unlucky enough to be sent to the guillotine.
Edward Carey’s mesmerisingly odd and original novel ends as Marie, now married and known as Madame Tussaud, departs for London where her fame will only grow.
Inspired by the early life of the real Madame Tussaud but filled with his own invention and illustrated with his own unsettling drawings, Little is a remarkable book. By turns witty, ghoulish, poignant and curiously life-affirming, it is a historical novel unlike any other published this year.
A waxwork model of sculptor Marie Tussaud, who is the subject of a “witty, ghoulish and curiously life-affirming” new novel by Edward Carey