"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.
trying to see the world through my ears
Though there are some audio quirks, they didn't significantly interfere with the listen (at least when formatted for ipod). I suppose the quick transmission to downloadable audio may keep the novel's price cheap?
I fell in love with this novel (and Gabriel Oak) when I was 14 and have re-read the paper version several times over the last 35+ years. I hesitated to download it, thinking such a beloved book would suffer in audio, but I really enjoyed the listen. I loved the narrator. She brought to life Hardy's poetic sections, especially those involving the English countryside and farming practices. As others have pointed out, the novel contains a somewhat misogynist portrait, but of a strong-ish heroine (for a Victorian character). In middle age, I felt the misogyny more deeply than back in the 70s, but I put up with it (and often much stronger) in Hardy's contemporaries and predecessors for the beauty if the prose and old fashioned romanticism and realism. Well, admittedly the ending is "too happy;" as someone pointed out --it wasn't Hardy's original ending; I think he had to tone down his realism to get published, but as a teen and now as an old fart, I love the ending. There's enough angst in the world and contemporary lit to suffice for me!
The listen motivates me to download and reacquaint myself with other Hardy novels and perhaps download his bio.