This new Blackstone recording of "Canterbury Tales" is wonderful and at times enthralling -- and also at times laugh-out-loud funny. Like the Charlton Griffin recording (also available here), it's the whole ball of wax: every tale, including the often-omitted Tale of Melibee and the Parson's Tale (which is really a three-hour sermon rather than a tale. Listen to it. It's good for the digestion, and quite a bit more interesting than it sounds). This translation, by J.U. Nicholson, uses a more old-fashioned vocabulary in places than the Coghill translation used by Griffin; but at the same time, it's also saltier. There are few crude names for parts or functions of the human body that Chaucer fails to use at one point or another, and most of them find their way into this recording. (For me, that's a GOOD thing!) One notable feature is that this is a multi-voice recording. Martin Jarvis is Chaucer, Ralph Cosham the Lawyer, Simon Vance the Squire; and that's only a few examples. Both this version and Griffin's version are five-star recordings in my book. Griffin's has occasional music, which this one lacks; on the other hand, this one has greater variety of tone and voice.
I try very hard not to write a review till I've listened to the whole thing. But I have to make an exception for this one. So far I've listened to The Inferno; but since I've already read the translation itself in its entirety, I'm going to stick my neck out.
This is brilliant. I'm in Heaven, so to speak. Clive James has created an unusual but consistently effective translation: rather than trying to reproduce Dante's terza rima, he plays to his own strengths by translating into quatrains, a verse form at which he is particularly adept. The result is a subtle but ever-present drumbeat of rhyme. There are better versions of individual passages in other translations, but I've never read one where the whole thing hangs together and flows together so smoothly.
James also adds clarifying phrases here and there throughout the translation to reduce the need for footnotes. (A good thing: the printed book doesn't have any.)
These clarifying phrases are not as extensive as those in the Audiobook Contractors version, read by Grover Gardner; but they serve the purpose, and they make it possible to listen without constantly feeling the need to look things up.
The result is a translation that demands to be read aloud. Edoardo Ballerini does a terrific job with the narration, capturing the Pilgrim's sense of wonder and letting the poetry unfold in its own effortless way. Ballerini is one of those narrators who conveys dialogue by suggestion rather than outright imitation of different voices. But the voices are there anyway, partly because of Dante's skill and partly because Clive James does such a good job conveying them. When passion is called for, Ballerini gives voice to passion; likewise when the speaker is giving voice to shame, anger, or pride.
Get it. Listen to it. Enjoy it. Learn from it. Treasure it.
Caveat: I've read the Comedy several times, in several different translations, with several different sets of footnotes. I couldn't claim to be a master of the allusions in the poem, but I'm comfortable with them. (When the wind is southerly I can tell a Guelf from a Ghibelline.) As such, it's hard for me to imagine the viewpoint of someone coming to this material for the first time. I THINK this would be anyone's ideal introduction to Dante, and I hope first time listeners will tackle this version and leave their reactions.
For myself, all I can say is that it will be a cold day in Hell (so to speak) before I re-read, or re-listen, to this masterpiece in any other format. There is no question in my mind that this is hands down the best audiobook version of Dante's masterpiece available.
I've always loved W.H.D. Rouse's prose translations of Homer. They've been available on Audible for years in an older recording by Nadia May. Blackstone has just reissued them in new readings by Anthony Heald, and they're wonderful. Heald is fast becoming one of my favorite readers. His fast-paced, emotionally-charged style is perfectly suited to the breezy rhythms of Rouse's prose. There are other more poetic translations and readings of The Iliad and The Odyssey, but to my mind these are by far the best prose versions -- especially appropriate if your goal is to be immersed in the story rather than the language.
There are some things about Rouse's style you should be aware of, though. Mostly these are reflections of Homer's style, but some translators smooth it over; Rouse does not. Zeus is sometimes referred to Cronides, Cronion, or just plain God. Other characters are referred to sometimes by their names, sometimes by their patronymics (Agamemnon is Atreides, the son of Atreus; Achilles is Peleides, the son of Peleus). Sometimes, as in Cronides/Cronion, those patronymics have more than one form. In addition, Rouse often uses the word "good" to indicate an in-law relationship: a "good-sister" is actually a sister-in-law; a "good-father" is a father-in-law. To me this is part of the charm of the translation, but if you're not prepared for it, it can be confusing.
As an Audible Editor I listen for a living! British classics, YA novels, speculative fiction, and anything quirky, fascinating, or heart-wrenching.
When I first read Brave New World it gave me nightmares. I was hooked. It might be strange to say that a book that gave me bad dreams is a good thing, but I was intrigued that a story could worm its way so powerfully into my psyche. It was really my first encounter with dystopian speculative fiction and I ultimately credit Huxley with sending me on my recent nosedive into YA lit. He probably wouldn’t appreciate this association, or the one I’m about to make, which is that I think this book is one of the most powerful and accessible works of dystopia ever created, and can be seen as a forebear to much of today’s hottest literature.
Sometimes when I’m not sure what I want to listen to next I’ll return to a book that I loved fervently in print and check it out in audio, and that’s what I did with Brave New World. I’m so glad that I did. Michael York is an excellent narrator and he captures the different characters admirably. But what I found most impressive is how he handles dialogue. Brave New World is more than dystopian sci-fi; it’s a novel of ideas and discussion. There’s a lengthy rapid-fire debate that takes place between John the Savage and Mustapha Mond near the end of the book that is generously peppered with obscure Shakespearian references. When reading you can gloss over anything you do not get immediately because you understand the merit of their discussion: is it better to be happy and controlled, or is the freedom to be unhappy the greatest of human liberties? But I found while listening that Michael York carried me along through their debate and the individual Shakespearian references sang clearly. Just as seeing a play acted out on stage is easier than reading it, I really feel that listening to this book was a heightened experience, and an improvement on the print version. Now when I recommend Brave New World to people I suggest they listen to it first.
And I’m going to recommend it again now: There’s a reason this is a classic, and read by most freshman English students. If somehow you’ve missed it, now is the time to pick this one up.