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.
In one sense, there's no denying this book is a masterpiece. It seems as though Stendhal set out to dazzle the reader with his incredible understanding of human nature, and that he did. However, looking back at the audiobook after a few weeks have passed, I find it difficult to remember the actual plot. So in that sense, I feel as though the novel could have been a better novel. Nevertheless, I would certainly recommend it for the sheer psychological depth. And, as audiobooks go, the narration on this one is top-notch.
As for the complaints about audio quality in some of the earlier comments: this has apparently been fixed, and the quality is perfectly acceptable.