Shakespeare, Dickens, Homer, Mark Twain, Walt Disney, History.
I avoided this book for a long time: who wants to read a book about a person who's so good everyone around him thinks he's an idiot?
Boy, was I wrong. This is an intense and brooding novel, filled with Dostoevsky's usual array of deeply conflicted characters and blistering monologues. The idiot himself, Prince Myshkin, is no pushover: maybe he's a bit naive at times, but he insists on treating people as equals and assuming their good intentions until contrary evidence is overwhelming. He suffers from epilepsy, and in the course of the novel has a couple of seizures that dramatically alter the direction of the story.
Superficially, the novel is about Myshkin's conflicted relationships with two women: Aglaya, the youngest daughter of a distant relative, with whom he is in love; and Anastassya Filippovna, a "fallen woman" who's been fobbed off by her former lover and who seems to be drifting from one self-destructive relationship to another. Myshkin may have loved her once, but now he mainly pities her. Aglaya, who at one point seems willing to marry Myshkin, ultimately breaks off because of his obsession with Anastassya.
But that's only one small facet of this complex, teeming book. The characters are captivating, the scenes at times almost hypnotic in their intensity. I've only read a few of Dostoevsky's novels, but so far I'm inclined to say this is probably my favorite.
Robert Whitfield (=Simon Vance) gives a stellar reading. Of particular note is his ability to distinguish the voices of the many women in the book: sometimes the shading is subtle, but I always knew instantly who was talking. Well done, highly recommended.
Have re-discovered "quality time." Evenings listening to good books have replaced mindless tv watching. What a difference!
The Vicar of Wakefield is a delightful book (from the late 18th or early 19th century), by Oliver Goldsmith (here narrated by Nicolas Farrell) that has held up as an engaging melodrama over a couple of centuries. The story concerns the Rev. Doctor Primrose and his family as they go from fortune to ruin, from living well to living precariously--typical of many stories of that time. If it seems a little predictable to us now, I suspect it was cherished by those who were reading it for the first time.
The story shows Rev. Primrose having to find ways to manage one crisis after another--whether losing his income, having his daughter fall into a bad situation, or people who are not what they seem. Throughout it all, he appears always to hold on to his optimism, indeed, others have likened him to (the Book of) Job in the Bible. Although less sophisticated than most of what we read these days, the story still is a good listen--and a reminder of what kind of stories used to excite an audience. (And by the way, there is much to take from it for our current times as well--certain human characteristics don't change that much). There is good tension among the characters, and certainly everything moves quickly--from one dilemma to the next. The Rev. Primrose and other characters are like the players in many novels of the time, in that they are, for the most part, rather two-dimensional.
Nicolas Farrell has done a very good job of bringing a fresh reading to us--and that is easily one of the best parts of this recording. If you are just yearning to have a fun read from the classics, this is quite good.