"Dead Souls" is a wonderful book. It has all the wit and linguistic dexterity of Dickens, and still is utterly and completely Russian. The elusive "Russian spirit" is on every page. Truly a masterpiece, presented here in a very good translation. The reader does an excellent job, too; his voices do slip here and there, but never for more than a second or two.
There is, however, one thing to note about this audiobook: Gogol intended this to be a three-volume work. In his lifetime, he only published the first volume. He apparently wrote some of the second part, but then burned it. Now, it seems that some fragments of this second part have survived, and these are included in the audiobook. Listening to that half of the audiobook isn't really enjoyable: every time you start to follow the plot, the narrator says "at this point there is a long hiatus in the original" and jumps off to a much later part of the story, complete with new and unfamiliar characters and full of references to events you have no knowledge of. I think the audiobook would have been better without this rather pointless second part, and would recommend stopping after the first.
First, a few technical notes:
- The translation used in the audiobook is the one by Constance Garnett.
- The actual length of the book is about 61 hours, since the last four hours (the epilogues) are repeated twice.
The narrator (whose real name was David Case -- he passed away in 2005) seems to provoke extreme reactions: some people can't stand him, others can't get enough of him. I happen to belong to the second class, and I believe he is especially suited for this novel. However, if you find his voice as irritating as some of the other reviewers, you should probably go for another version.
And now for the book itself. In "The Brothers Karamazov", Dostoyevsky writes: "Show a Russian schoolboy a map of the stars, which he knows nothing about, and he will give you back the map next day with corrections on it." Tolstoy is the ideal to which all such schoolboys aspire, and "War and Peace" is his greatest achievement. Not only is this immense work a novel, it is a place for Tolstoy to expound his views on the causes and persons of the Napoleonic wars, on the methods of historical research, on free will and (of course) the existence of God. I can't say that I found everything convincing or even interesting -- for example, he takes a lot of pains to demonstrate the Napoleon was not a military genius but a blundering fool -- but for the sheer complexity and ambition of this work I cannot help but award it five stars.
First things first: the narrator, Neville Jason, is wonderful. With an extremely pleasant voice and impeccable diction, he takes care to give each character a clearly distinct voice and accent. So if you're looking for a reading of Candide and/or Zadig, this one is a great choice.
As for the books -- enough has been written about them in the past 250 years, so I'll keep my review to the bottom line. Candide is a masterpiece. Like Gulliver's Travels with a punchline. Very very good. The ending is brilliant and still inspiring after all these years. Zadig is a little less to my taste, though still very well written. The central question in it seems to be "how can bad things happen to good people" and the answer given is "God works in mysterious ways". I personally like Candide's reply to this better.
This is the most wonderful presentation of a fascinating story. The plot is intricate and beautifully brought to a conclusion. The readers are simply marvellous. To listen to them all in roles of the colourful characters was a pure joy. An absolute thrill. Wilkie Collins writes with such clarity without wasting a word. Beautifully musical sentences. Lots of fun and a glimpse into an intriguing historical era. Wilkie Collins was a bon vivant and his writing reflects his thirst for life. Witty and clever writing. One of the best mysteries I have read. Great characters and I loved the settings of the action. Reading this has made me want to explore all his other stories and read his letters and biography. There is a Wilkie Collins Society in London which I will join when I finish reading and listening to all his works. I also listened to a shorter story called A Rogue's Life. This was great fun and very tongue in cheek. Again Collins creates a thrilling and symmetrical plot. When I listened to The Woman in White I also bought the book just so I could read the superb language he creates. There is not a single dull moment in this book. I recommend this famous novel to you. Next I am going to listen to and read The Moonstone. Wilkie Collins conveys tension and intrigue in a way that simply grips the reader. He sets scenes to a point where the reader feels totally immersed in his world. He is interesting in the way he treats his women too. The reader sees the sexism of the Age but also feels that Collins himself was not one to stereotype women to the extent that one may see in Dickens' characters. Collins creates somewhat more rounded characters. His virtuous characters are not quite as sickly as those Dickens creates. His villains are really wicked and conniving to an engaging and thrilling extent. Collins takes the reader on a ride that one wishes would never end but which forces one to rush enthusiastically to the conclusion. Brilliant presentation of a gem!