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Summary

Country girl Denise Baudu arrives in Paris hoping for a position in her uncle's clothing shop. However, her uncle's shop, along with other small shops in the area, is doing poorly. This is due to the large store across the street - The Ladies' Paradise - which is swallowing up the small specialty stores by offering "one-stop shopping" at discounted prices. Nineteenth-century Paris is experiencing the dawn of the department store. Despite her loyalty to her uncle, Denise is drawn to the progressive Ladies' Paradise and it's owner, the driven but charismatic Monsieur Mouret. This book was the basis for the PBS Masterpiece Classic series, The Paradise.

Public Domain (P)2014 Lee Ann Howlett

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Gaele
  • 15-04-14

rich and layered use of description

Prodigious barely can encompass the volumes added to literature by Émile Zola. In this, his eleventh book that dealt with various familial and societal relationships, Zola creates captivating characters that both serve as witness to, and participants in the great changes that are occurring throughout Paris in the post 1860's world. Now familiar to many as the genesis idea for the PBS Masterpiece Classic series The Paradise, it was an interesting listen as I was able to work out the direct correlations between characters and the more composite or ‘informed by’ in the television version.

Having read excerpts in the original French several years ago, the one lasting impression from the writing of Zola is his rich and layered use of description. Long unused, to attempt this book now, either in written or spoken version would be daunting – I would understand little at first go, yet the beauty of the phrasing and descriptions do resonate, even if their meaning is lost.

The audio version is narrated by Lee Ann Howlett, to mixed effect for me I must say. While I can appreciate the effort put forth, the mispronunciation of Monsieur, Madame, Mademoiselle (often shortened to Mill for Mlle.) served to take me away from the story at each turn. There were some affectations of pitch and tone to elucidate a ‘younger’ speaker that were little more than grating, and I was pleased to see that as the story progressed the variations in the pitch of the speech lessened in impact. Howlett has a wonderful voice that was well suited to the narration of the story, and it would have been a far smoother listen for me had she not adjusted to accommodate changes in characters during conversations.

This is ultimately a story that focuses on changes, large and small, both to society, a city and to the people who inhabit it. Historically it was a tumultuous time with wars, political unrest, the advent of more industrialized options for manufacturing, and most countries were dealing with economic hardships and food scarcity that often resulted in migration from small communities into the cities to find work. Denise is no different, heading to Paris to help her uncle in his small yet struggling shop. The new thing, a full-service department store full of ‘ready-made’ goods and providing goods to entice every consumer is opening, and she soon secures a position in the ladies department. The story not only shows the growth and changes occurring in the country and the city, but inside the store and with Denise herself, as she learns to ‘polish’ her appearance, and uses her not inconsiderable sense and reasoning to rise within the hierarchy of the store. Like all young women, Denise has secrets and dreams, and we are fortunate to see her journey. Far from being a staid and boring story that only will appeal to fans of historic fiction, this story has a bit of everything: conflict, history, love, loss and even drama in varying doses as the characters from the store live their lives and serve their customers.

I received an AudioBook copy of the title via AudioBook Jukebox for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Susan C. S.
  • 28-01-14

Narrator stands in the way of the book.

How could the performance have been better?

This is an incomprehensible choice of narrator for this book. Ms. Howlett butchers the pronunciation of all the French proper names, place names, and particularly street names (which play an unusually large part in this narrative). I don't ask for perfection in pronunciation of French words in an English translation, but Howlett's pronunciation is so bad it's practically comic. Encumbered by this, she mangles the rhythm of the prose, even in English.

In addition, she reads all of the younger women characters in a voice suitable for very young children. It adds a surreal element to the narrative that was certainly not intended by the author.

Was The Ladies' Paradise worth the listening time?

I found the story quite fascinating, but a struggle to follow because of the reader.

21 of 24 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Anne
  • 31-05-14

Amazing story, HORRIBLE narration

What would have made The Ladies' Paradise better?

The narrator mispronounces words high school students should know how to pronounce. She also mispronounced every French name, even the word " Monsieur" turned into "mon-sewer." I want my money back!

Who was your favorite character and why?

The novel itself is my favorite novel of all time. Denise, the protagonist, defies Victorian expectations by becoming a canny businesswoman. The novel is a masterwork of Zola, and Denise is a modern woman.

How could the performance have been better?

Get a narrator who understands the vocabulary or at least pronounces it correctly. And it would be nice if she seemed to be at all engaged with the text in any manner. I have never paid for sex from a streetwalker, but I imagine that this narration's joyless and impatient manner resembles this kind of work.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

The book gives me hope for the human race. The narration makes me want to find the narrator and force her to look up all the words in the dictionary she mispronounced, then give her a quiz.

Any additional comments?

Get this novel narrated in the original French. Get this novel narrated by someone who cares.

12 of 15 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Noora
  • 26-08-16

Can't stand the narrator

The narrator's pronunciation of French words is atrocious. Also, she sounds like she's thoroughly bored by the whole thing. No enthusiasm, and terrible acting.

I can't stand 16 hours of this, so I'm returning it for a refund.

I hope they will record this again with a better narrator, since I really want to "read" the book.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Matthew
  • 08-04-18

My Nightmare

I found this to be extremely dull and whiny. I have also never heard "the latter" used so many times before to the point where it made my skin crawl. If you are required to read this for an assignment my advice to you is find another class

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Janet
  • 03-01-18

Performance is intolerably bad

Would you try another book from Emile Zola and/or Lee Ann Howlett?

Any book by Zola, none ever by Lee Ann Howlett.

What didn’t you like about Lee Ann Howlett’s performance?

Her pronunciation of French is laughable -- absurd: why did the producer not correct her? The reading of English is mediocre, but tolerable.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Ladies' Paradise?

It is very long, agreed! But it's worth the length, a look at the Walmart strategy, as practised in 19th-century Paris.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Kindle Customer
  • 29-09-17

boring

struggled to finish. would not recommend this to my friends!!!the television show is better!!!

0 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • J. L. Parker
  • 22-06-17

Lovely story; poor choice of reader.

Zola's writing suffers at the hands of reader Lee Ann Howlett. Her dull, flat tone and lumbering pace render the author's elaborate imagery tedious rather than engaging. Her pronunciation of French names and locations in Paris is distractingly poor and her diction when reading English is equally lamentable. (I had not realized how many times Zola uses the word "ruin" in this novel until I had to hear Howlett pronounce it "rhoine" again and again and again...) The Ladies' Paradise is an excellent novel robbed of its power to delight by a reader very ill-suited to the material. Unfortunate.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • bonnie flint
  • 25-05-17

The worst!

I can't listen! The narrator for an Émile Zola novel should definitely l be able to pronounce French words. O can't even stomach her English accent. A slow, southern accent ruins Zola.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful