Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A review of 'Revolution' by Jennifer Donnelly

'This heart we are all talking about...does it have meaning because it has this and that protein? No, it has meaning because of its context. It had meaning because of the so-called stories that surround it. It had meaning because we know  - or soon will - that it came from the body of a defenseless child who was imprisoned by revolutionaries, who was denied the very things they sought to obtain for all humanity - namely: liberty, equality and fraternity - and whose immense, unspeakable suffering shame every politician, every strategist, every academic, think-tanker and policy wonk - then and now - who claims that the Revolution's idealistic ends justified its violent means.   

This book is intense and riveting. Two reasons you should take two days to read it - but like any real good book, the absorption really kicks in after you put it down and whatever you've injested is suddenly beating around the blood in your veins, for hours after. It hounds you, like the main character, Andi is (or maybe because I was on a 48 hour mung bean diet and was rather deprived of carbs and other such nutrition).

You are expertly put in her place. Her emotions are raw and on a seemingly never ending trip of pain. It's a downer, it's horrible in so many instances, built upon by the
account of the French Revolution brought alive by Alexandrine's diary, which Andi stumbles upon. The book bulges with death in all it sickness, isolation - and beauty. The parallel drawn with Dante's Inferno, the book being split into 3 parts - Hell, Purgatory and Heaven - really underlies the fabric of the narrative well. I didn't expect the book to read as it did but I was utterly entwined. The extracts from Alexandrine were wonderful, the way her own revolution comes about in us, the way it makes the reader echo Andi's hope - that the tale of the Lost Prince in the tower must be one of salvation. I wished it as fervently as her, I let my mind contemplate wild theories of who the little prince could have turned out to be.

There was a twist of sorts - it's something I thought was going to happen and then it didn't, even when the book got past the half way point, so I gave up on that. Only for it to drop me splendidly into it.

The historical painting of Paris in the eighteenth century is done very well. It's rich, it's harrowing and I myself couldn't believe such a time existed - it felt almost super-real. Perhaps because I knew precious little of the Revolution itself, I found it absolutely horrifying. I think that was the point - to make it appear like Hell.

There were moments in the book where I was irritated my the protaganist, Andi. She's betrothed to her despair and pretty devastating to everyone around her. It becomes relentless (typical stupid girl moments of thinking the guy you like has a girlfriend he didn't tell you about while he wooed you blah) but again, I believe that's the point. Even the moment where she spills the beans about her brother's death is drawn out but at least it had me turning the pages. (I have my gripe against 'the new, gorgeous, pefectly-tailored-for-me guy in my life' helping me sort out my issues but I think Alexandrine is the real person who teaches Andi what she needs to know - and feel). The message she finally gets from reading the accounts of a girl dead for 200 years comes to her loud and clear. It gets you hard in the chest as well; all that 'tiny rays of hope shining through so much bleak darkness' and such, beautifully embodied by the fireworks Alexandrine risks setting off and what they represent. I think the extended analogy of it was fascinating, how it all tied in with her brother and all the parallels. It was a like a reincarnation tale, an echo of history, the revolutions of time just keep going and going. All of this and more comes out of the book - along with some great lines of dialogues that are real home truths for humanity. Then there's music (which I know little of) and language going beyond time and society and what it means to be human versus DNA - and political ideals.


PS - this is prime material for a film also and I would be excited simply to see who would play the amazing character 'G' - the character I quote above.

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