A tour-de-force of historical imagination, this is the story of three young men at the dawn of the French Revolution. Georges-Jacques Danton: zealous, energetic, debt-ridden. Maximilien Robespierre: small, diligent, and terrified of violence. And Camille Desmoulins: a genius of rhetoric, charming, handsome, but erratic and untrustworthy.
As these key figures of the French Revolution taste the addictive delights of power, they must also come to face the horror that follows.
©1992 Hilary Mantel (P)2013 W F Howes Ltd
I'm sure I will love this book when I can get hold of the cast of characters - it is in the print edition and the kindle edition and is vital to keeping track of the story with hundreds of minor characters. Unfortunately the Kindle sample has the list at the end (so it's not in the free sample and you would have to buy the book to get it). The only failing of the audiobook format.
For Hilary Mantel's other books (Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies) a friend sent me a photo of the first few pages of her hard copy and I referred to them frequently as I was listening.
Some solution to this problem from Audible would be much appreciated!!
Detailed, very detailed
One, and I stress only one, of the most memorable descriptions is that of the execution of Marie Antoinette. Little snippets, like having had her hair dressed up and off her neck because she anticipated that it would be necessary, the executioner hacks it off to the required length anyway - and burns it, so that it will never become a relic.
This may be how it was for Madame Guillotine, or it may be the author's detailing, but this happens over and over again.
I don't think I could read the book. It is, like Hilary Mantel's two and soon to be three historical books on the Tudors, a meandering tale that moves from past to present tense; in and out of dialogue; with many characters, each of whom Jonathan Keeble brings to life using a different voice/ accent.It is the narration that gives life and colour to this edition; and helps to sort out the very many characters along the way.
Lucile Desmoulins, wife of Camille Desmoulins - a clever and observant woman, much underrated initially, as Desmoulins' first love was her mother and he only married Lucile because Annette/Anne would not consider divorcing her husband. Lucile was in the midst of the group - Robespierre, Danton, Desmoulins, Marat and the many other men who drove the French Revolution with their commitment and foresight.
If she was not available - and she was executed before him - I would invite Maximilien Robespierre. Mind you, I doubt if he would accept - he wasn't quite a recluse, but he was not a social adept. Kept his energies focussed on the task in hand, which for him, was to improve the wellbeing and lives of the poor people of France. I liked his gentility and kindness.
4 sections and almost 34 hours - the book takes some commitment to read/listen to. And that is one of its remarkable virtues - imagine having written it! It is very detailed and the point of view changes a lot, making it a challenge to keep up with the characters and scene, never mind picking up the thread if you have to stop listening for any length of time.
The writing is so very good. Very Hilary Mantel. It is worth bearing in mind that this was her first - that's right - first novel and was written when she was 22 years old! In the interview that she does at the end of the Kindle version, she tells the interviewer that it nearly killed her; that she put it onto a shelf for decades before it was resurrected by new circumstances in her writing career.
In a word of warning, if you know nothing about the French Revolution, this is not the best book from which to increase your knowledge. It helped that I had some idea of dates and times and events and, to a lesser degree, persons from that cataclysmic time in the history of France. Get out your encyclopaedias, your Baroness Orczy and Jean Plaidy, and there is always good old Google.
Then come to Hilary Mantel, for an entirely new, and surprisingly intimate, perspective on The French Revolution.
"A fascinating, cold and brutal slice of history"
99.9% of people picking up this book will be people who've finished with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and want more coldly calculated beheadings from Mantel. The history is fascinating, as are the three main characters. Her prose isn't yet what it would become in her later novels, it's almost entirely just clean and functional, and the moments of embellishment come across as a little purple by contrast. The pronoun references can be hard to follow in the audiobook, with so many characters performing similar roles and the narrative's habit of jumping between scenes and perspective without warning. With so many players all involved in the backstabbing, show trials and sexual misadventures, you start wishing for the narrator to put on more hammy but distinct accents, like the narrator of Wolf Hall or Roy Dotrice who does The Song of Ice and Fire books. That said, Desmoulin's stutter perfectly captures his fey charisma
Hillary Mantell is surely the queen of historical fiction. This book is every bit as good as her two Cromwell novels and it is fascinating to see in this earlier book how she develops the techniques which make those books so gripping. Only she could invest characters who bored the pants off me in my history A level with such life. The Frech Revolution comes alive vividly in all it's passion and horror. It is a long book but is totally gripping from beginning to end. Can't wait for the next one!
"Long and satisfying."
This was an excellent experience overall, with wholly believable characterisations (particularly Camille). I wish those 2 reviewers who gave the superb Jonathan Keeble only 1 star for performance would explain. It just doesn't make sense!
"a bit too much"
The second half was more engaging than the first.
Overall quite good narration.
Hillary Mantel has obviously developed her own style and I loved her other books. To my mind she overdoes it a little bit especially in the beginning of this work. Changes of perspectives, developing too many strands and also adding a fair share of unnecessary linguistic acrobatics I nearly decided to stop listening about 8 hours into the book. I made it to the end and overall I am glad I did but if ever Hillary Mantel decided to take my advice it would be : Sometimes less is more
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