Empty theatre Or, the lives of King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Sisi of Austria (Queen of Hungary), cousins, in their pursuit of connection and beauty despite the expectations placed on them because of the exceptional good fortune of their Status as beloved national figures. With speculation into the mysterious nature of their deaths

Jac Jemc, 1983-

Book - 2023

"A wildly over-the-top social satire reimagining the mad misadventures of iconic royal cousins King Ludwig and Empress Sisi, from the incomparable Jac Jemc"--

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1st Floor FICTION/Jemc Jac Due Jun 10, 2024
Historical fiction
Biographical fiction
Satirical literature
New York : MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2023.
Main Author
Jac Jemc, 1983- (author)
First edition
Physical Description
451 pages ; 22 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 447-450).
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

In this fantastical take on historical fiction, skillful yarnspinner Jemc (False Bingo, 2019) weaves together the unfortunate fates of King Ludwig II of Bavaria (often referred to as "the Mad King") and his older cousin, Empress Elisabeth ("Sisi") of Austria. Immediately enthralling, the novel opens with the untimely deaths of its two protagonists under suspicious circumstances. Ludwig has been murdered, "by himself; or by the doctor who had declared his mind unsound; or by an assassin hired by disgruntled statesmen." For Sisi, it's been a stab wound by an anarchist. From there, Jemc rewinds to the birth of Ludwig II and traces the monarchs' interlinking lives through all the trappings of privilege and power that royal birthrights afford. Jemc seamlessly blends fact and fiction, and her characteristically poetic prose shines through: a frustrated cabal of advisers compiles a list of Ludwig's indiscretions to determine which accusations stand and which "crumple under the slightest stress, like a plaster model never replaced by its marble heir." A lengthy book by most measures, Jemc's propulsive pacing, evocative concision, and the episodic structure make for quick reading. But the rapturous recounting of these fated characters' lives will buzz for some time in readers' minds.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this lively work, Jemc (False Bingo) composes a twin portrait of two very different 19th-century monarchs. Austria's Empress Elisabeth ("Sisi") is comparatively more engaged than her younger cousin King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Sisi regularly pushes her husband, Franz, on policy matters while suffocating under the confines of Habsburg palace life. She has an ambiguous relationship to motherhood, suffers from syphilis as a result of Franz's dalliances, and engages in a long flirtation with Hungarian nationalist Count Andrassy. As for Ludwig, he doesn't even pretend to occupy himself with governing, feeling it his only duty "to sustain his subjects with beauty and majesty." He longs to escape into his own dreamworld, embracing the epic works of Richard Wagner with an almost religious devotion and constructing a series of increasingly fantastical and ruinously expensive castles. Jemc largely succeeds in humanizing this eccentric and possibly insane figure. Her episodic style gives the novel a brisk, impressionistic air but sacrifices some of the immersive qualities of historical fiction and necessitates the occasional dry summary: "With Austria's defeat to Napoleon III in the Second Italian War of Independence, the nation hits a low point." Nonetheless, Jemc seldom lacks for brio in portraying these inscrutable figures weighed down by their crowns and visions. The originality on offer is well worth the price of admission. Agent: Claudia Ballard, WME. (Feb.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Two royal cousins--Ludwig II of Bavaria and the Empress Elisabeth of Austria--chafe against the constraints of power even as the world around them seeks to strip that power away. Elisabeth (or Sisi, as she is known) is born in 1837 with a double dose of royal blood, but she's raised outside the intrigues and expectations of the Bavarian court. Her father, Duke Max--a minor member of the Wittelsbach dynasty--plays the zither and loves nothing more than the circus, while her mother, Princess Ludovika of Bavaria, Max's first cousin, picks fleas from her lapdog at the tea table. Raised in Possenhofen, a summer palace 6 miles from the seat of power in Munich, Sisi has an idyllic childhood that prepares her for a life of willful privilege, a prophecy that seems fulfilled when she catches the eye of her cousin Emperor Franz Joseph, to whom she is promised when she is only 15. It soon becomes clear to Sisi, however, that life in the rigidly formal court of the Hapsburgs represents the exact opposite of the freedom she enjoyed as a child. She chafes wildly against the expectations of her new husband and his formidable mother, the Archduchess Sophie, that she be an ornament of the crown whose only real duty is to behave well and produce an heir. Meanwhile, in Nymphenburg castle in Munich, Sisi's cousin Ludwig, heir to the Bavarian throne, eschews the more practical side of his royal education in favor of the heady distractions--art, theater, ballet, human beauty--he sees as his birthright. Obsessed with the exquisite, Ludwig becomes a fervent patron of the arts, a builder of pleasure palaces, a custodian of refined theatrical passion, and an utter failure at managing the pressing needs of a kingdom threatened by German unification under Bismarck. As the cousins' lives intertwine, Jemc masterfully weaves the political intrigues of the time (replete with anarchist uprisings, proto-democracies, and the death throes of the Hapsburg dynasty that would eventually lead to cataclysmic war) without losing track of the essential humanity of Ludwig and Sisi in their fey quest to remake the world into the version of beauty they believe is its ideal. Sensual, intricate, and filled with the verve of its own opulent language, Jemc's retelling of these apocryphal lives delivers all the urgency of their time into our own without losing any of the fidelity it owes to their real legacies. This novel is a triumph. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.