Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness

Sheila Kohler, Author . Other Press $24.95 (425p) ISBN 978-1-59051-262-3

The life of Lucy Dillon, an aristocrat in Marie Antoinette's court, is the subject of the seventh novel and flawed first foray into historical realism for South African author Kohler (Crossways ). Through her resilience and resourcefulness, Lucy (based on the real-life Henriette Lucy Dillon) saves her husband, Frédéric Séraphin, and their children from the Terror during the French Revolution. The book opens in 1794 with Lucy and her family fleeing France, then flashes back episodically to her role as apprentice lady-in-waiting at court and her severe childhood despite her aristocratic privilege. The contradictions in her upbringing, the novel suggests, may have helped Lucy to become the resourceful person who could lead her family to the U.S. and establish a dairy farm in upstate New York, where her friendliness and butter become renowned. But two years later, once the Terror ends, Frédéric insists they return to France, though her time in America remains the moment when she lived out "the illusion... of being Queen of my own destiny." Kohler's writing is often deft, but the immense amount of historical material checks the narrative momentum. The novel succeeds better in conveying the particulars of Lucy's life, especially her adaptation to the rigors of American country life. (Apr. 24)

Reviewed on: 01/29/2007
Release date: 04/01/2007
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 367 pages - 978-0-425-21961-4
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