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“The adventures that follow were written as a history of Paris recounted by many different voices,” writes Robb. “The idea was to create a kind of mini-Human Comedy of Paris, in which the history of the city would be illuminated by the real experiences of its inhabitants.” The 19 stories chosen by Robb span the period before the French Revolution to the Clichy-sous-Bois riots of 2005. In contrast to Balzac’s monumental and sprawling 100 stories and novels of The Human Comedy, Robb’s Parisians is a meticulously researched, intricately detailed nonfictional work of art, a historical novel of a unique type, a dazzlingly kinetic masterpiece of adventure revealing an intriguingly human history of the City of Light.
Vance brings to Parisians a dynamic mastery of narrative expression, perfect timing, and his great set of narrative techniques that often go unnoticed. But perhaps that’s the point. Some narrators are more vocally demonstrative than others. Vance’s voice is expressive in quite subtle ways. His Parisians narration is a journeyman performance similar to the stone masons that applied their talents and skills to the construction of Notre Dame. Vance shapes the finely wrought architecture of Robb’s extraordinarily constructed collection of stories. Parisians the audiobook would not have enriched the print book’s exacting aesthetics without Vance.
Robb is a remarkably acute artist. He unfolds a good number of the Parisians stories as if by stealth. At the beginning of the chapter “Lost”, a woman is referred to only as ‘she’, and it is only gradually that we learn who she is and what the consequences will be of her getting lost. Some things about some of the storylines are revealed only at the end. In “One Night at The Palais-Royal” an 18-year-old artillery lieutenant has his first sexual experience with a woman and later writes about it. After he pens his experience we learn who this lieutenant is. Robb compares and contrasts over the book’s periods of time. There are assassination attempts on a French President and a President-to-be. Are the attempts real or fake? Charles de Gaulle is covered with fragments of mortar from an unknown enemy after World War II. Marcel Proust is showered with fragments of metal in a German bombing of Paris during World War I. Who is the braver, Proust or de Gaulle? Who is histrionic and who coolly indifferent? And who is one of the more fascinating individuals in Parisians?
I don’t want to give away anything more reviewers of the print edition of Parisians have spilt the beans. Don’t pick them up. This is a great audiobook. Listen before any further third party descriptions mare your experience. David Chasey
A young artillery lieutenant, strolling through the Palais-Royal, observes disapprovingly the courtesans plying their trade. A particular woman catches his eye; nature takes its course. Later that night, Napoleon Bonaparte writes a meticulous account of his first sexual encounter.
An aristocratic woman, fleeing the Louvre, takes a wrong turn and loses her way in the nameless streets of the Left Bank. For want of a map - there were no reliable ones at the time - Marie-Antoinette will go to the guillotine.
Baudelaire, Baron Haussmann, the real-life Mimi of La Boheme, Proust, Charles de Gaulle (who is suspected of having faked an assassination attempt on himself in Notre Dame) - these and many more make up Robb's cast of characters. The result is a resonant, intimate history with the power of a great novel.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Myrna Minkoff on 10-11-10
Difficult....but worth it
I completely understand the frustration of folks who find this book to be "too much." I had the same reaction to Robb's "Discovery of France," which does not have an audio version. I posted a 3-star review at Amazon taking some hard shots. But I always had the disquieting feeling that the book was simply difficult, not at all unworthy, the opposite, in fact. That feeling won out, over time, and ultimately I took down my carping review.
As of now, I have only the Audible version of this latest Robb book. It is difficult to casually follow. IT IS DIFFICULT TO CASUALLY FOLLOW. But for those with the inclination, the payoff is huge.
There is no need to be judgmental here. Some people -- most people, perhaps -- are mildly interested and wish to be amused and informed while remaining in a casual relationship to the material. Nothing at all wrong with that, but it does not work for this book. At least, not for me. I regard it as more like a college course; I plan to read the book and to listen more than once. For those who have that level of interest, it is a dazzling tale. To me, it is more than worth the effort...big investment, big payoff.
19 of 19 people found this review helpful
By Christine on 06-28-10
This audiobook is so good!
I was delighted by this audiobook. Was that in part because I have been to Paris a number of times, have a passable knowledge of French history and literature, can speak basic French, and am an unashamed Francophile? Would I have felt the same if Graham Robb had written a book called Berlinners, Madridians or Muscovites? I think that for people who feel a connection to things French or Parisienne this book will be pure Heaven
Simon Vance is superb as a reader on this audiobook. His tone changes to match the various moods of the narrative, and his French accent is impeccable for place and peoples' names. He reads rather quickly, so it does require some concentration so as to keep with the flow of the tale. I am not sure that this is the book to listen to when caught in frantic peak-hour traffic, but it is immensely rewarding with serious listening time.
This audiobook is so good.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful