I love listening to or reading books--especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, classics, & historical.
Brave New World is a bitterly funny and humorously tragic dystopian novel in which Aldous Huxley satirizes modern civilization’s obsession with consumerism, sensual pleasure, popular culture entertainment, mass production, and eugenics. His far future world limits individual freedom in exchange for communal happiness via mass culture arts like “feelies” (movies with sensual immersion), the state-produced feel-good drug soma, sex-hormone gum, popular sports like “obstacle golf,” and the assembly line chemical manipulation of ova and fetuses so as to decant from their bottles babies perfectly suited for their destined castes and jobs, babies who are then mentally conditioned to become satisfied workers and consumers who believe that everyone belongs to everyone. In a way it’s more horrible than the more obviously brutal and violent repression of individuals by totalitarian systems in dystopias like George Orwell’s 1984, because Huxley’s novel implies that people are happy being mindless cogs in the wheels of economic production as long as they get their entertainments and new goods.
Michael York does a great job reading the novel, his voice oozing satire for the long opening tour of the Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, and then modifying in timbre and dialect for the various characters, among them the self-centered brooder Bernard Marx, the budding intellectual poet Helmholtz Howard, the sexy, sensitive, and increasingly confused Lenina Crowne, the spookily understanding Resident World Controller of Western Europe Mustapha Mond, and especially the good-natured, sad, and conflicted Shakespearean quoting “savage” John.
I had never read this classic of dystopian science fiction, so I’m glad to have listened to this excellent audiobook, because it is entertaining and devastating in its depiction of human nature and modern civilization, especially timely in our own brave new Facebook world.
The three readers are well-suited to their roles. Simon Templeman is sensitive and vigorous as the frame-narrator, the idealistic and lonely explorer Walton, Anthony Heald is fragile and feverish as the self-pitying, obsessed, and played-out Frankenstein, and Stefan Rudnicki is baritone and bare as the rational, wronged, and vengeful Creature.
And what a fascinating, nightmarish, sublime, melodramatic, elegant, and surprising novel it is! Told by letters and interviews and by narratives inside narratives, glossing over the science and diving into the morality of the creation of artificial life, exploring the glories and dangers of the heroic (and tragic) quests for knowledge and discovery, expressing the best and worst of human nature, laying bare the sadness of loss and alienation. If, at times, I feel like slapping Frankenstein out of his self-centered wallows in guilty misery, the Creature's autobiography is compelling, and the scenes on the Arctic ice are terrific. And Mary Shelley often effectively builds up and then thwarts or shocks reader expectations. The novel has little in common with most movie adaptations of it, but it is well worth listening to so as to experience the source of so much popular culture Frankenstein material, as well as a representative example of the Romantic era.
The Story of the Volsungs is a classic Icelandic saga, written in the 13th century from much older oral fragments of songs. Eirikr Magnusson and William Morris’ 1888 translation of the saga is fast-paced, coherent, heroic, tragic, and darkly beautiful. It is mostly prose, but includes many passages of poetry or songs. It influenced H. Rider Haggard’s The Saga of Eric Brighteyes, J. R. R. Tolkien’s oeuvre (especially the Silmarillion), and Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword. If you like such tragic fantastic adventure fiction, if you are interested in Norsemen (Vikings!), or if you enjoy reading epics for their insights into human nature and their windows into different cultures, you should listen to this audiobook.
It begins with a useful 48-minute introduction by H. Halliday Sparling about the historical, religious, political, and cultural context of the Norsemen and of their sagas, which is followed by an 8-minute preface by Magnusson and Morris about their translation.
The saga depicts the interrelated fates of two great Norse families, the Volsungs and the Guikings. From the opening sequence, in which Sigi, grandfather of Volsung, kills a thrall who outperforms him in hunting and then hides his body in a snowdrift, the people in the saga are prey to overwhelming ambition, pride, envy, love, and hate. So there are plenty of battles, with kings killing kings and heroes dealing death till their arms are “red with blood, even to the shoulders,” and murders, brothers killing brothers, sons fathers, and mothers children, with poison, sword, or fire. The Norns have already decided the people’s dooms.
There are also fantastic elements aplenty: men change into wolves, nightmares reveal disastrous futures, magic potions make men forget, magical swords are re-forged, Odin interferes with advice, boon, or doom, and so on. There are many great scenes, like Sigurd talking with a dragon about its cursed treasure or finding the sleep-spelled shield-maiden, Brynhild, “clad in a byrny as closely set on her as though it had grown to her flesh.” The characters are compelling because they’re so heroic and flawed. Any character might be loathsome one moment and admirable the next, or vice versa.
The saga is not an easy listen, because many characters’ names sound similar and because of the archaic Malory-esque language used by Morris to evoke a timeless and heroic age (so the free online text might be helpful). But there is a dark, spare, grand, and beautiful poetry in his translation, and reader Antony Ferguson treats the text with restraint and fluency, subtly highlighting its terse turns and beautiful flights and rich alliteration, as in the following excerpt:
"So Regin makes a sword, and gives it into Sigurd’s hands. He took the sword, and said—'Behold thy smithying, Regin!' and therewith smote it into the anvil, and the sword brake; so he cast down the brand, and bade him forge a better."
I am very glad to have listened to this saga.
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
Walter Hartright, a young art teacher, is startled when he is overtaken by a young woman dressed entirely in white while walking on the road from Hampstead to London. Visibly distressed, the young woman begs him to show her the way to London, and he offers to accompany her there. The young woman accepts his offer on the condition that he allow her to come and go as she pleases. Once he's dropped her off in London, two men in hot pursuit claim that the girl has escaped a mental asylum and must be returned there at once, but Walter does nothing to help them in their search. The next day he arrives at Limmeridge House, where he has gained a position as a drawing master. There he meets his young pupils, half sisters Marian and Laura. In no time at all, her befriends Marian—no great beauty is she, but quick, smart and amusing—and falls desperately in love with the heavenly loveliness that is Laura. But the encounter with the woman in white will carry many consequences.
I took absolute delight in discovering all the plot twists of this great classic mystery, so will disclose no more of the story nor of how it is told, but will say that it offers a wonderfully evil conspiracy and several highly memorable characters, not least of which the strange and compelling villain Count Fosco, who stole every scene in which he appeared, in my view. Also, the sublimely selfish Frederick Fairlie is one of the most memorable invalids I have ever encountered in a work of fiction. I must say that this version, narrated by Simon Prebble and Josephine Bailey, greatly increased my enjoyment of the tale, with wonderfully rendered characters. Now that I've listened to it and that there are no more secrets for me to discover, I still look forward to listening to it again for a fun romp with highly colourful characters and plenty of Gothic frissons.