Friday, April 15, 2011

Finding Emilie by Laurel Corona

Finding EmilieFrom Goodreads:
Woman is born free, and everywhere she is in corsets. . . . 
Lili du Châtelet yearns to know more about her mother, the brilliant French mathematician Emilie. But the shrouded details of Emilie’s unconventional life—and her sudden death—are elusive. Caught between the confines of a convent upbringing and the intrigues of the Versailles court, Lili blossoms under the care of a Parisian salonnière as she absorbs the excitement of the Enlightenment, even as the scandalous shadow of her mother’s past haunts her and puts her on her own path of self-discovery. 
Laurel Corona’s breathtaking new novel, set on the eve of the French Revolution, vividly illuminates the tensions of the times, and the dangerous dance between the need to conform and the desire to chart one’s own destiny and journey of the heart.
The first quote in the blurb is a version fictionally written by Lili du Châtelet of the more well known version of Jean-Jacques Rosseau quote: Men are born free and everywhere in chains. This sets the ideals of the child's mother and for Lili's life as well. Emilie du Châtelet (portrait to the right) was a real person in history who not only studied science and rewrote Neuton's laws so everyone could understand his theories as well as other treatises in physics; but she also lived and encouraged others to live a life true to yourself. Much of this book is based in well researched history. Emilie died shortly after the birth of Lili, the main character of the book, who then died a few days later. The author takes the birth of Lili and changes her outcome. Instead of dying, she lives and does not suffer the fate most likely a child would of that circumstance. Instead of going to a convent, she is adopted of sorts by a close friend to be raised with her child. This book is Lili's fictional story.

I admit when I first started this book the blurb made me think this was a book where the child, Lili, learns of her mother and is besotted by her philosophies. Thinking them through and coming to epiphanies of her own. That is not quite what happened but it came close. We follow Lili through her life. Starting with her childhood and her problems at the convent where she was tutored for her schooling. It was not pleasant for a child full of questions about the world. Luckily being raised by her foster mother who encourages her quick mind she is not beaten down by piety. Instead she is invited to attend the Solon that meets frequently at her house to discuss politics while trying to learn to be a lady worthy of marriage. A line precariously drawn since women of that time were supposed to be vapid and arm candy; nothing more.

To me this book is what the author wished Emilie's life could have been. It was the ideal life situation at that time and age. However, I don't think it would have made her the woman she was nor Lili either. Greatness does not come in a vacuum. And while Lili's life was not totally perfect nor totally in a vacuous state, it did come close. She really only touched upon the problems and prejudices she would have to endure if she was to pursue the path she wanted to undertake in science and writing. I've always felt that sometimes we need the oppressive state to encourage greatness as the brightest light always shines the best in darkness. However, who am I to criticize as sometimes people can see the world in their back yard and some keep their blinders they were born to even when they travel the world. Regardless, I still would have preferred epiphanies rather than what seemed like small revelations within Lili's life and in her life's philosophy.

So, how do I rate this book? I did enjoy it, but I admit it did drag a bit a times. However, those seemed to be small because the book quickly interested me after a small lull. The book also starts with 2 quotes to set the stage for Lili's philosophical life. One by Voltaire: Common sense is not so common. as well as a wonderful quote by Emilie herself:
"Judge me for my own merits, or lack of them, but do not look upon me as a mere appendage to this great general or that great scholar, this star that shines at the court of France or that famed author. I am in my own right a whole person, responsible to myself alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I do. it may be that there are metaphysicians and philosophers whose learning is greater than mine, although I have not met them. Yet, they are but frail humans, too, and have their faults; so, when I add the sum total of my graces, I confess I am inferior to no one."
These quotes actually made me more interested in Emilie herself more than her daughter. With her improved life story wise, I don't know if I was as interested. I will say that Lili's philosophy about the social situations in this book could also be used in today's situations. For example: the dreary half a year she had lived with the Baronne Lomont, she had never heard laughter, never heard anyone  express a thought except to disparage someone else's, never glimpsed joy in being alive.
I know people like this, don't you? Those that would rather be right or righteous than happy? I guess the old idiom is true. The more things change the more things stay the same.

Oh, and yes, I am aware I did not answer the above question. I will rate it 3 1/2 stars. I recommend the book to people who love historical fiction written with a small slice of social commentary. I would have rated it higher but I just don't think that our ideal lives will produce the greatness we always hope it will. 

I received this book from the publisher, Gallery and no compensation for my review was given.


  1. I don't like books that drag a bit. ;) It does sounds interesting, and the genre is so up my alley. mmm...Great review!

  2. Not too sure about this one. Many thanks for such an indepth review, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this one.

  3. "Greatness does not come in a vacuum."

    Wow Melissa! This was a hell of a review, and I couldn't agree more with your above statement. This one probably isn't for me given there's nothing supernatural involved, but you wrote an amazing review and I do think it's an interesting idea to take a part of history and re-write it so things happened differently:)

  4. Another great review!
    I felt the same way about this book, but I must admit, I did not articulate quite as well as you did. :)

    Here's mine:

  5. Exactly Mel! This review is like the perfect therapy for me today. I've been pondering many random things and some of these quotes really seemed to provide some answers for me. I think you are right. We could have everything we've ever wanted to make our lives perfect, but then what? Will it ever be enough? And you know my stance on common sense. It is a lost art. ;)

    Thank You! Fabulous review!

  6. @Nina... It dragged for me, but perhaps you wouldn't see it the same way. I think I was just anxious to get to the philosophy. :)

    @...Petty... You might enjoy it more than I did. It's possible.

    @Jenny... Hee hee... I made you cuss! ;D

    @Yvonne... Thanks, I'm off to read yours!

    @Missie... So true. Oh, and in this case I think they were saying that common sense is not common. In other words, be true to yourself rather than letting the "normal" people tell you otherwise. But what do I know? I've never accused myself of being "normal". ;D

  7. know people like this, don't you? Those that would rather be right or righteous than happy?

    I know them too. They are wet blankets and joy-suckers. I avoid them as much as I can.

    Great, intelligent review - I still would like to read the book but now I am better prepared for its flaws. Emilie intrigued me (but her daughter a bit less so).

  8. Emilie does sound fascinating - a woman well worth knowing. This sounds like my kind of book - about women rising above the oppression of society.

  9. I do not know, I am a bit torn. It just doesn't sound like something for me. And those bits that dragged, meh

  10. @anachronist... Unfortunately you can't always avoid them. :P

    @Stephanie... I love that too. Would have loved to see that a bit more in her daughter's faux story.

    @Blodeuedd... You might like this story. It might have dragged for me b/c I wanted more of the philosophy. I usually like those sorts of things. :)

  11. Very interesting. Sounds like there's a lot to think about in this one. thanks for the honest review!

  12. I have been dying to read this book. I think I will read it even though it drags a bit. Thanks for the review!

  13. I'm going through a historical fiction phase, so I'll be checking this one out :)


Thanks for commenting! I ❤ comments!