As an Audible Editor I listen for a living! British classics, YA novels, speculative fiction, and anything quirky, fascinating, or heart-wrenching.
Persuasion was the only Jane Austen novel I had not read so I recently decided to remedy that. Juliet Stevenson had cracked me up as the neurotic mother in Bend It Like Beckham, so I was sure I could count on her to bring out the comical side of the story (and Jane Austen always offers up some comedy). But I had no idea Stevenson was such a subtle and talented actress. As the omniscient narrator she sounds sensible, measured, and lovely. She delivers the story while not allowing the listener to get bogged down in Austen’s sometimes antiquated language. She successfully confers masculinity to the male voices without attempting to impersonate. And the women who are meant to be laughable, such as Anne’s sister Mary, with them she is ruthless. And it’s delightful.
In terms of the story – this is probably Jane Austen’s best. Pride and Prejudice will always be my long-standing favorite, having been the first book in my life that I couldn't put down, but Persuasion is Austen's smartest work, and you can sense her own maturity in it (it was her last completed novel). It takes the kind of characters we meet in her other novels and fast-forwards them ten years. These are grown women – not girls – dealing with love and loss, and learning about second chances.
Ok I’m only halfway through The End of the Affair, but I’ve been talking everyone’s ears off about it around the office and just had to go ahead and write a review before finishing it (something I’m generally opposed to doing).
I’m not sure quite how to capture just how exceptional Firth’s performance is, but I'll give you two good examples. Graham Greene writes a lot about how close together love and hate are (apathy being the true opposite of both), and Colin Firth totally connects with his meaning. When Firth says the word “hate” you really feel rapture simmering beneath the surface. When he utters the word “love” he spits it out like venom. The two are irreparably intertwined. The subject matter is there - this being, in essence, a record of great passion gone wrong - and Colin Firth does it justice. Every word is impassioned without ever being too much or over the top. Narrators have to be careful to walk this fine line when dealing with emotionally heavy material and Firth succeeds perfectly. But Bendrix, the protagonist isn’t just a man of great feeling – he’s also a curmudgeon, he’s difficult, he’s maybe a little cruel – but Firth makes you care for him despite the fact that you really don’t like him. Another vocal juggling act performed without flaw.
I have never read The End of the Affair before and only have a vague memory of seeing the movie, so I don’t really know where the book is going to end up – but I just hope I can somehow elongate the delicious few hours left that I have with it. Seriously, seriously, seriously – don’t miss this performance.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novella is one of those stories that reminds me to be thankful that I live when I do. It's about a woman who is suffering from postpartum depression before postpartum depression existed. Instead, women suffered from “exhaustion,” “a case of nerves,” or (the best gender-specific illness of all time) “hysteria.” She submits to the forced regime of rest prescribed by her doctor husband, and the inactivity and removal from her child throws her headfirst into a depressive spiral. Especially strong in audio - the narration here is gentle, real, and creepy all at once. Jo Myddleton’s voice begins calm and rises in desperation as the protagonist descends into madness. The panic and claustrophobia is tangible. You’ll get angry. You’ll want to protest something. Your inner-feminist (guys too - you know she’s in there) will awaken. It’s awesome.