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Publisher's Summary

For readers of The Paris Wife and Z comes this vivid novel full of drama, passion, tragedy, and beauty that stunningly imagines the life of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel - the ambitious, gifted laundrywoman's daughter who revolutionized fashion, built an international empire, and became one of the most influential and controversial figures of the twentieth century.

Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her siblings are sent to an orphanage after their mother's death. The sisters nurture Gabrielle's exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.

Transforming herself into Coco, a seamstress and sometime torch singer, the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny.

Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco's reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. But her fame and fortune cannot save her from heartbreak as the years pass. And when Paris falls to the Nazis, Coco is forced to make choices that will haunt her.

An enthralling novel of an extraordinary woman who created the life she desired, Mademoiselle Chanel explores the inner world of a woman of staggering ambition whose strength, passion, and artistic vision would become her trademarks.

©2015 C. W. Gortner (P)2015 HarperCollins Publishers

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
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Fiction Not Biography

I love a good biography and was so pleased when I found this title about Coco Chanel. I started listening and realized too late that I had made a mistake--this was not a biography. It is instead a fictionalized novel based on the life of Chanel. The story felt overly romanticized and too clean and neat to be the actual telling of a real life. I was left wondering--as I tried to progress with the book--what was true and what was fiction.

I am trying not to review books that I hate and award only one or two stars because it seems so negative and not always helpful. However, in this case I thought it best to point out that this is a work of fiction. To me, reality, history and facts all matter a great deal. What's more, truth is often far more engaging and compelling than fiction. So, if you are looking for the "real" Coco Chanel I would keep searching. Can't recommend.

41 of 48 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Ilana
  • Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • 02-25-17

Felt too much like chick-lit for my liking

Overall, I can't say I was very excited by Mademoiselle Chanel: A Novel. Unlike another reviewer, I was indeed entirely clear when I got this book that it was a work of fiction and could expect plenty of free interpretation, but there could have been many ways to tell her story without making it sound like a Hollywood Romance. Only taking part in France, with French people, who are presumably speaking French to each other. I bring that part up because I am not American and found it very difficult to get into the spirit of things with a narrator who was so emphatically American in her delivery that it made the whole thing slightly surreal to me.

I think in retrospect I would have been better served with a straight biography of Gabrielle aka Coco Chanel. I am not a reader of romance by habit and I like my fiction as free of it as possible, and I certainly never in my life had any curiousity about how Coco Chanel might enjoy her sexual relations or not. I found these passages distracting and annoying and completely unnecessary.

There was little to like about the woman other than her clear determination to be one of the most successful fashion designers of her time. Whatever had to be done to get there, she did it. Here we saw a woman determined to leave her mark on the world, but also incredibly dependent on men and their money to make her place, just as she also presumably strives to remain completely independent. I was curious to see how the author would describe how she fared during the Second World War, as read somewhere a few years ago that she had presumably collaborated with the Nazis, though I had no other information than that. Here, once again, romance comes to the rescue and saves the day between her and her Nazi of choice. He was a 'good' Nazi, you understand, so really she was doing her country a service. She may have been a heartless bitch to her employees, but she was willing to sacrifice herself for a good cause, as long as there was promise of profits in the offing.

Truly, the book got on my nerves and I'm not sure why I stuck to it. I think the fact that it was written in the first person made it especially unpalatable, as this gave us an entirely subjective point of view on the kind of person she was without the benefit of the perspective of what her contemporaries thought of her very much.

Why am I even giving it three stars then? Because the author does a good job of describing the times and places, and as an entertainment, I suppose it was a good story. In fact it came highly recommended by a reviewer I've been following for quite a few years already. She may or may not have said words to the effect that it was a thumping good read. Of course, that is always a highly individual experience.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Was curious about her so.........

Any additional comments?

I decided to listen. I enjoyed the story, but I would have liked the narrator to have had a French accent. I think it would have enhanced the story more. All in all a good listen.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Ginny Allen
  • Steelwood, Loxley, AL 36551 United States
  • 08-11-18

Woman ahead of her time

Intriguing life, rags to riches, independent woman at turn of 20tj Century, creative genius. The fascinating story of perfume Chanel No. 5's development the red and a business that expanded through The Depression and two World Wars. The brilliant reader voices each character adjusting for gender and two nationalities.

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What a wonderful story

How much is true? I don’t know and don’t care. Just a fabulous biography and insight into a hard and fulfilling life. I loved every moment.

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Non-english words/names was at times horrible.

Maybe little background work how certain names or words are pronounced would have been beneficial.

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One of Gortner's Better Historical Fiction Books

I knew a bit about Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel before I read this book, but never felt I understood her. She is a respected but controversial figure who knew what she wanted and went for it. I like how Mr. Gortner didn't just ignore the fact she had affairs with married men, possibly had close entanglements with a few women, and was possibly a Nazi spy. I respect that Mr. Gortner didn't shy away from unpleasant events that happened in Mademoiselle Chanel's life like some authors I've read in the past have. Mr. Gortner wrote in what he believed to be the truth, and I can respect him for that. Many people have said he should have written in a more unfavorable light of Mademoiselle Chanel but that seems like a personal preference. This is a historical fiction and things are impossible to prove since so much time has passed, so he could write about what he believed to be provable. Mademoiselle Chanel always denied being a Nazi spy and there was never enough proof to convict her. She was such a private women that I'm not sure the truth will ever fully be known about her as she didn't keep a journal or many confidants. In truth, I'm not sure what to believe about her even but I do know a few things. I admire her tenacity to work for what she wanted in her life (success and independence) but her biggest downfall had to be pride. She made a lot of decisions based on emotions and sometimes it cost her dearly. This book isn't a biography but I feel like I can understand Mademoiselle Chanel better than I have before. How an individual feels about her is left up to them in the end.

I must be honest and say that if I had read this book I might have given this book a 3 star rating. I had a print copy at first but gave up on reading it as it is a long book. I decided to try listening to the audio version as I liked the narrator's voice. Rebecca Gibel, the narrator, really made a difference for me. Her narration kept me listening to this book for hours and drew me into the story more than reading it did. Hopefully, in the future, I can listen to another book that she narrates. I'd recommend the audio over the print version as it truly brings the emotion from the characters out.

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Mesmerizing and more than a life time of dreams !

Would you consider the audio edition of Mademoiselle Chanel to be better than the print version?

i didnt read the paper back but the Audio is beautiful and riveting !

What did you like best about this story?

I like the indepth truth that lies in the undertones of the story ! My life is forever changed .

Which scene was your favorite?

All the scenes are my favorites ! Coco Chanel reigns as Queen of modern garments as we see it . A woman before her time , in how she lived her life and in her craft !

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I laughed ! i cried ! i looked into my own life and i learned lessons ! C'est Mangnifique !

Any additional comments?

It is a great story and the narrator was exceptional . She gave an excellent performance . Her inflections and accents were on point with every word . My favorite quote was when Emilienne said "Choices are a womans weapons "
Choices are all our weapons thats the 1st lesson !

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I am now obsessed with Coco Chanel!

Would you consider the audio edition of Mademoiselle Chanel to be better than the print version?

I know this is a fictional account of Mademoiselle Chanel's life, but it all seems plausible given everything I've read about this determined woman. I can't say that Chanel is all that likable, given her penchant for married men, but the conversations and relationships make this such an interesting read. Her determination to make her own way and to not depend on any man is a feminist's dream!

What was one of the most memorable moments of Mademoiselle Chanel?

When Boy Capel was killed in a car accident on his way to see her. So tragic.

What does Rebecca Gibel bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

I wish that Rebecca had portrayed Chanel with a French accent. It would have added tremendously to the ambiance of the story. She seems to do fine with German accents.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

I had always heard that Chanel collaborated with the Germans, but now I am rethinking this.

Any additional comments?

I am a big fan of Gortner after listening to two of his books. I plan to check out everything he has written.

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Highly recommend

This was one of those books that I didn't want to stop reading! The rich history that was woven into this story was so interesting and intriguing.