It is 1789, and three young provincials have come to Paris to make their way. Georges-Jacques Danton, an ambitious young lawyer, is energetic, pragmatic, debt-ridden - and hugely but erotically ugly. Maximilien Robespierre, also a lawyer, is slight, diligent, and terrified of violence. His dearest friend, Camille Desmoulins, is a conspirator and pamphleteer of genius. A charming gadfly, erratic and untrustworthy, bisexual and beautiful, Camille is obsessed by one woman and engaged to marry another, her daughter. In the swells of revolution, they each taste the addictive delights of power, and the price that must be paid for it.
©1992 Hilary Mantel (P)2013 W.F. Howes
This is the first Audible.com book I have experienced (out of several dozeb, possibly a hundred or more) that failed completely. The reason is the narrator's performance, in particular, his indifference to the basic 'grammar' of the author. Let me explain.
Hilary Mantel develops her narration in the form of vignettes, switching from character to character abruptly, and also interspersing commentary and anecdote about other historicual figures. In the printed text, these are separated by a few end-stops, sufficient white space for the reader to know when one episode ends, another begins.
For reasons best known to himself or his director, Mr. Keeble has chosen to ignore these grammatical indicators. He reads the text seamlessly without pause or break, disregarding these endstops. Evidently, empty air is so frightening it's intolerable. Thus, the listener has dialog and action from one scene melded onto the one before, without any idea of whether he is still in the same scene, or another, or hearing a larger comment. The result is that detail becomes impossible to separate or recollect. After five hours of this, I gave up, opened the text, and began reading (which I also do) a really good novel, that is quite easily approachable if you have the common sense to respect the author's intent.
Added to that is the narrator's complete inability to give any of the three main characters (Des Moulin, Robespierre, and Danton) really individual characterization, and you have a disaster.
I am going to be seeking a refund on this one. If you decide to buy it, you have ample warning.
Once again Mantel offers an interesting perspective on a tumultuous time in history. Perhaps a bit drawn out and rushed in the end but definitely worth the time. The narrator is excellent and in no way detracts from the story. I wouldn't have finished the book in print (knowing how it must end) however Keeble's performance made it enjoyable and easy to follow. Not to be missed if you have an interest in this era or enjoy Hilary Mantel's other books!
The French Revolution is a great backdrop for a novel, just ask Mr Dickens. Mantel should be commended for attempting to be true to history in her copious use of letters and documents of key figures in order to give them an authentic voice when it comes to dialogue. The problem is that most of this book is just dialogue and precious little explanation as to what the hell is going on. I'm a professional historian myself and yet I had difficulty wading through the didactic exchanges of these revolutionaries in order to piece out where we were in the evolution of the Revolution. Even more problematic, in Mantel's effort to rely on writings of these figures in order to put words in their mouths, she forgot that a novel needs a plot. The only satisfaction the reader gets out of this long and dreary piece is seeing everyone get it in the neck. --- Oh, don't accuse me of being a spoiler, you know what happened to these guys, right?
The last half of this book drug and was challenging to follow, until the very end. I can see how Hilary Mantel has really grown as an author, but the magic dialogue and characterization are definitely pure Hilary Mantel and make it worth the labor. I thought I knew a lot about the French Revolution, but I didn't know much about Danton and Camille. These characters were so alive they were practically there in front of me. (What loud lawyer does Mantel live with?) The ending -you know what is coming - was superb.
Don't get me wrong I love reading dorrstops, but this book is interminable. The last 1/4 would stand on it's own and is the only part with interest.
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