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The Hurlyburly’s Husband
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|The Hurlyburly’s Husband
By Jean Teulé
Translated by Alison Anderson
Publisher: Gallic Books
US Pub. Date: April 15, 2014
Originally published in French in 2008
Pages: PB, 340
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= also available as ebook
This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
As you know if you follow this blog, my reviews focus more and more on French literature or at least on topics related to France. With that in mind, I approached Gallic Books, who offer “The best of French in English” as their motto says. And they graciously already mailed me two historical novels, my favorite genre. Thanks Gallic Books, I really appreciate!
It was also really neat to read this book almost at the same time as The Shadow Queen, as both books have as main characters Athénaïs de Montespan and Louis XIV, but from two very different perspectives!
Françoise Athénaïs married Louis Henri, marquis of Montespan. A few years later, Athénaïs became lady-in-waiting at the court of Versailles. There, she attracted King Louis XIV’s attention, and ended up actually his most famous mistress. History has usually ridiculed le Montespan has the most famous cuckold of all times, as he dared oppose the king.
In The Hurlyburly’s Husband however, Jean Teulé develops the whole story into a real tragicomedy, highlighting first the ardent love between Athénaïs and Louis-Henri. They never have enough of each other. The only shadow to their love is money, or the lack there of, as they live way above their means and waste it away very quickly.
Hoping to get some victory and great reward, Louis-Henri goes to war, but it ends up being a great disaster. Chapter 6 presents a typical French graphic scene, with some black humor characteristic of Jean Teulé.
Their blackened chests now exposed, the marquis’s soldiers, once held close by fair demoiselles, fell together on the sand in a hideous parody of the act of love.
So to remedy to their financial situation, she accepts to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen. When she tries to tell her husband the danger she may soon fall in, he doesn’t get it. When he finally discovers her wife got pregnant by the King’s doing, he starts publicly criticizing the Sun King.
Everyone around him tries to tell him how lucky he is, to have his wife so pleasing to the king, that he can take advantage of the situation, as so many husbands before him did, and finally become really rich.
But Louis-Henri wants to prove to that society that real love does exist, and he does all kinds of crazy things to protest and remain true to their love.
To the end of his life, he remains faithful to his love, and tries by all means to have his revenge against the king, as the stubborn Gascon he is -in France, they do have a reputation to be very stubborn!
He has but one failing: a stubborn love.
I really enjoyed a lot the originality of the novel, as comedy and tragedy are intertwined to present the story from an unusual facet.
As a reader, I wanted at the same time to laugh at Louis-Henri and cry with him.
The style is often totally hilarious, under the guise of seriousness. It can thus be super romantic or awfully gruesome. And the ending of the book is completely macabre.
There are scenes of utter derision, for instance at the theater in chapter 18, describing the sickly dauphin of Spain (Future Charles II) in chapter 39, or when Louis-Henri witnesses what the King does with his mistresses, through a spyglass (chapter 43).
There’s even a funny passage of self-humor I believe on page 225. The author describes the Seigneur de Teulé as “that wretched nobleman -a ruffian and a counterfeiter”. But note that the author himself is called Teulé!
All the main historical elements are present, including the controversial and maybe legendary one of Athénaïs taking part in black masses to try to keep the love of the King, and the famous Poison Affair, maybe orchestrated by her with the help of the infamous “La Voisin“, fortune teller, poisoner, and alleged sorceress.
The 17th century is supposedly the dirtiest period in French history, and you can really smell the stench between the lines! The hygiene of the time was horrendous, and Teulé conveys this quite well.
The English title of the novel comes from the name of one of Athénaïs’s hairdo, called à la hurluberlu.
There’s a fascinating interview with the author at the end of the book, as well as reading group questions.
VERDICT: I highly recommend this unique historical fiction. Hilariously funny, gruesome, macabre, and graphic, it is a worthy witness to great French modern literature revisiting famous and infamous royal history.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
A man, his wife – and the King that came between them. The Marquis de Montespan and his new wife, Athénaïs, are that very rare thing: a true love-match. But love is not enough to maintain their hedonistic lifestyle, and the couple soon face huge debts. Then Madame de Montespan is offered the chance to turn their fortunes round, by becoming lady-in-waiting to the Queen at Versailles. Too late, Montespan discovers that his ravishing wife has caught the eye of King Louis XIV. Everyone congratulates him on his new status of cuckold by royal appointment, but the Marquis is broken-hearted. He vows to wreak revenge on the King and win back his adored Marquise. At once comic and poignant, Jean Teulé’s extraordinary novel restores a ridiculed figure from history to his rightful position of hero: a man who loved his wife and dared challenge the absolute power of the Sun King himself. [provided by the publisher]
THE HURLYBURLY’S HUSBAND
‘A bawdy romp one minute, a gruesome tragedy the next. The writing is beautiful, witty, grisly and moving, and reeks of authenticity.’ Sunday Telegraph
‘Fascinating…I rooted wildly for the brave Marquis’ Wendy Holden, Daily Mail
‘This brilliantly boisterous, charmingly Gallic tragicomedy is a riveting tale of love, sex and power which gives new dignity to one of history’s most ridiculed figures and helps restore him to deserved heroic status.’ Lancashire Evening Post
‘Dazzling’ Le Point
‘Tremendous fun’ Liz Loves Books
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jean Teulé lives in the Marais with his partner, the French film actress Miou-Miou.
An illustrator, filmmaker and television presenter,
he is also the prize-winning author of ten books including one based on the life of Verlaine.
He has also written biographies of Rimbaud and François Villon.
Gallic Books has published three of Teulé’s novels:
the black comedy The Suicide Shop
and two novels based around true historical events: the terrifying Eat Him If You Like and bawdy tragi-comedy The Hurlyburly’s Husband.
Read an interview with Jean Teulé.
View all books by Jean Teulé or discover more Gallic authors
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE NOVEL
SET IN THE COURT OF LOUIS XIV?
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