FIC­TION Night­mares and wax

NICK REN­NI­SON is drawn in by a macabre but mes­meris­ing novel in­spired by the early life of Madame Tus­saud

BBC History Magazine - - Books / Fiction - Nick Ren­ni­son is the au­thor of Carver’s Truth (Corvus, 2016)

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

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