Goddess by Kelly Gardiner

 Goddess Kelly Gardiner

Title: Goddess

Author: Kelly Gardiner

Number of pages: 378

Publisher: Fourth Estate

Year of publication: 2014

Genre: Fiction based on a true story.

New words I encountered: hallidan, gavotte

This is a fantastic read. I found it difficult to stop reading it and longed to get back reading it when I had put it down. It is an exciting and fast moving telling of the life of a very dynamic Frenchwoman, Julie-Émilie d’Aubigny, who was born towards the end of the 17th-century. It is a work of fiction but based on a true story. If it were just fiction it would be interesting enough but what really makes it interesting is that this woman actually existed and she lived a short but very exciting life full of exploits.

The book begins with the heroine in her bed, dying. A priest has joined her and she asked him to write down the story of her life. The story in the book is of her telling the priest her life. Even though many chapters begin with her talking to the priest the stories very quickly become real and the reader feels that one is viewing the events that happened in real time.

“Did they warn you about me, Father, before they pushed you through that door? You heard all the gossip – in the cloisters, in the kitchen, all over Provence? I know what they’re saying. I know what you’re thinking, too. The oldest story of all – scarlet woman turns her face from sin at the end of her days, takes the veil, finds humility and salvation.

Pig’s arse.”

Julie is quite happy to use foul language and give strong opinions in her recounts. This makes the story more interesting and humorous. It is not a biography, it is a personal reflection with honest opinions.

“Are you writing this down? All of that? Very good. It’s about time somebody did. Here, nobody listens to word I say. Perhaps they think I’m making it up. But I couldn’t. Nobody could – not this life. It is known throughout Europe, if I say so myself. The duels, the stardom, the Opéra triumphs, all the escapades. The escapes. You can read about me in the pamphlet, any day, on streets of Paris.”

Julie was bisexual, a superb and undefeatable fencer, and brilliant opera singer. She was also outstandingly beautiful which meant many men wanted to be with her and women also loved her. She was prepared to be used by men and also to use men to gain what she wanted. She did love men but her real love was for women, two in particular. She spent her life searching for these women again. In the last few chapters one feels that she finally found the love that she was looking for and that she had gloriously happy times with the woman she loved until that woman’s death, which left her heartbroken and extremely lonely. This is the big regret in her life. She wished that she could be happy with these women and live with them and love them.

The book is written in a fast moving way. Sentences and chapters are kept short in order to demonstrate the rapid pace. As Julie lived such a short life (she died at 33 years of age), this suits the book. Some chapters are only two or three pages long. The book is replete with short sentences to increase the drama and to demonstrate the speed at which things were happening in her life.

“They are spellbound. They are silent at last. Dido weeps, they weep.

The last scene. Dido must sacrifice herself – for her city, for love. She holds the knife aloft. Four hundred people hold their breath. She stabs at her breast, and again, then falls the stage.

Stops singing. There is blood. Nobody has ever seen such brilliant acting. Such special effects. So realistic. So gripping. The other cast members stand in awe. Or something. The crowd is on its feet, applauding, calling out for the final aria.

Until a stagehand runs across to the singer, turns her onto her back. Her head lolls to one side. He waves his arms. A baritone vomit into sound. Someone screams.

The curtain falls.”

The author users short snappy sentences to demonstrate the drama and how much of a whirlwind Julie was. One can almost vividly experience the impact Julie had an audiences and on people. With Julie there is a before and an after. Her star rose so quickly that she blazed throughout Europe.

“The goddess smiled, she weeps, she storms. She sings. Oh! She soars above mortals, looks down on their perfidies with disdain. She changes the world. Forever. And that’s just the first act.”

Not for prudes

This book is not for the squeamish or prudes. It is replete with sexual encounters. It could not be otherwise as the heroine of the book slept with so many men and women that the story and the book would not be complete without them. Here are two such examples:

“There are dusty miles behind the horses hooves – long summer miles through hamlets and across rivers. The horse is weary. The rider is desperate for a drink and a roasted hare and maybe a woman’s mouth on his noble cock. In that order. Perhaps twice.”

and…

“In the warren of smelly rooms and hallways behind the stage, the gentleman of the chorus smoke and chatter, Thévenard waxes his beard into a point, dressers race from room to room with sewing needles and ribbons. In a dark corner of the rehearsal room one of the lesser-known tenors tries to breathe quietly while a boy from the ballet takes his cock down the throat and sucks hard, the tongue soft and willing, the sensation so exquisite it’s almost pain.

He comes, violently and with a moan that’s far too loud, in the boy’s mouth, in the same moment as Duménial knocks on the leading ladies’ door.”

Highly recommendable

The book is very well written and extremely enjoyable. It is teeming with exploits, whether they be duels with swords, insults and controversies, escapades and sexual encounters. It is hard to know what one would think of Julie if you were to meet her in real life but this book makes one feel empathetic towards and impressed by Julie. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a good and entertaining read.

More information about this book can be found here.