Sunday, March 10, 2013

Review: The Emperor's Body by Peter Brooks

Title: The Emperor's Body
Author: Peter Brooks
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Published: 2011
Pages: 272

Rating: 2 out of 10

In 1840, it was arranged that an expedition be taken up to exhume Napoleon Bonaparte's body from his exiled home of St. Helena's Island, and bury him in Paris, twenty years after his death. This is the story that the book bases itself on, though loosely.

I had high hopes for this book, but it failed to live up to even the most modest of my expectations. The Emperor's Body would have been more aptly titled something like Idiots in Love, or Pointless Romance. This is really all that I got out of it.

Henry Beyle, better known as the famous French author Stendhal, takes up most of the book. He is involved with the mission to fetch Napoleon's body, so you would think that we would see him occupied with that for most of the story, right? Wrong. He spends the first third of the book reminiscing about his experiences with a lover he has in Sicily, the other third longing for a new girl named Amelia, and the other third playing the "She loves me, she loves me not" game. Though the author constantly reminded us of Beyle's age (around forty, as I remember), he acts like a silly teenage boy.
His lover, to use the word flatteringly, is the young, beautiful Amelia Curial. She is being pressured to marry by some, and urged to take a lover by others. Confused and inexperienced, she tells Beyle she wants to be with him, but does not exactly say whether she means as a husband or as a lover. We never really find out.
Amelia was sickening, and I disliked her strongly. She toys with the affections of two men at once, all the while utterly undecided about what to do, and leads both to believe that they hold some claim over her. Though it sounds malicious, she really is just a senseless girl.
At the end, after everything is decided, she says to herself that now she "knows enough about love." So she considers herself experienced now, does she? In trickery and stupidity, perhaps.
I know that this is sounding pretty harsh, but I literally could not have endured another ten pages of these awful characters.

The real piece of the story that fascinated me when I read the description was the idea of Napoleon impacting people's lives so strongly, even from the grave. I have been stumbling across quite a lot of books about the Bonapartes and the Napoleonic Wars lately (just by chance), so I thought that this one would be a perfect book to end the sequence.
While I was forced to listen to Beyle moaning about Amelia, saying he wants her but can't take her because of what a good man he is, and Amelia saying one day she loves Beyle more than anything and the next day unsure if she has feelings for him at all (aaahh!!), I looked in vain for Napoleon.
He was not the focus of the story at all, but rather an interesting back story that should have been made more prominent. The only part of this book that I actually enjoyed (for a few pages, that is) is when they opened the coffin and looked at the dead emperor. These were the sort of scenes and details I was hoping for in this book!

This was a huge disappointment. Please don't bother with it.