First of all, I just love Naslund's writing. It's always gentle, effortless. I listened to her interview about writing this book and she talked about how she researched the music of the language during the time of Marie Antoinette and tried to suggest that rhythm in her writing. Love that. Second, I knew nothing really about Marie Antoinette except "let them eat cake" and that they chopped her head off.
Well, she never said "let them eat cake". That was said like 30-60 years before she came to France by the wife of Louis XIII or VIX. (She was married to Louis XVI.) They did chop her head off, but it was actually quite tragic and sad. I've been trying to develop a little more empathy these days. When my work group had to take a test about 4 years ago that rated 50 personality traits, all of us had empathy in the lowest 5 traits. Typical, I suppose, for auditors, but not so great for just being a decent human.
One thing I've been trying hard to keep in mind lately is "If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail". In other words, people usually try to do the best they can or make the best decision they can make with the tools and resources they SEE as available to them at the time.
Naslund tries to depict Marie Antoinette this way. From M.A.'s letters, mainly to her mother, you can tell that she was consciously trying to be good, virtuous, and especially kind and gracious within the restrictions of her duties as queen, the severe limits in her education, and her naivety about how "regular" people lived.
The book earns a "great" from me for making me think about things (like being kind when it isn't in your best interest), and for making me want to learn more. I think I need to develop a point system with which to rate books. I'll get right on that :)