My rating: 5 of 5 stars
this review refers to the audiobook version.
i doubt seriously that Hilary Mantel needs another person to effuse about this book, but i’m going to anyway.
what a masterpiece.
my knowledge of the French Revolution was approximately zip (I knew they had one! yay!) before i read this book, so i’m certainly not coming at it with a huge familiarity. but always willing to be educated, and having really really liked Bring Up the Bodies, i thought i’d give this one a stab. or a guillotining, as the case may be.
and it was… wonderful.
such a tremendous achievement, to take the doubtless bazillions of historical events and weave them into a very comprehensible tale of three men: Georges-Jacques Danton, the large man of huge appetite and forceful action; Camille Desmoulins, the irrepressible man of words; and Maximilien Robespierre, one of history’s most mystifying figures. their dynamic and ultimately rather horrifying triangle of actions, words, and philosophies is brought to vibrant life in this work.
the book is as much about these three lives as it is about how a revolution can turn from beautiful and pure idealism into shrieking horror. how that revolution got from A to B is a truly heartbreaking tale.
extra extra points to Mantel too for having real women in the story–the wives & lovers of the main characters as well as a random revolutionary or counterrevolutionary here and there. so often books dealing with war & revolution seem to take place in a world oddly denuded of women–this one most definitely does not, and the women are just as interesting as the men (except that no one, ever could be more interesting than Camille).
ok enough of my drivel. now go read it.
about the audiobook: the narrator of this work did an utterly fabulous job–great voices, lively narration, wonderful emotion. my sole quibble with the audiobook is that if you’re not overly familiar with French names, you can easily get lost in who’s who. for me, unfamiliar names get familiar by visual repetition; hearing them doesn’t always work. so i went out and bought the print copy of the book in order to have the six-page cast of characters in front of me to refer to. now why, o audiobook producers, don’t you offer this front matter (and maps!) available to download with the book? i’ll never understand.