I didn't realize Anthony Heald was such a brilliant audiobook reader; now that I know, I'll be on the lookout for more titles from him in the future. He takes what I had always thought was a fairly stodgy translation and makes it jump off the page (or in my case, out of the iPod). It's a breathless performance, all the characters clearly differentiated, the narration moving forward rapidly, the novel closing in on the climax of the story with almost unbearable tension. There are at least three hearty laughers in this novel, and in Heald's reading we can tell them all apart instantly.
In this case the tension is moral rather than physical. It's a murder mystery of sorts, but one where we see (and FEEL) the crime being committed: Dostoevsky and Heald put us inside Raskolnikov's mind before, during, and after the double murder at the center of the plot. In this case the problem that drives the story isn't whether the police will catch the killer -- although the novel features a clever and persistent detective worthy of the best of the genre -- but whether the killer can be brought to a point where he has the moral courage to confess.
It's a disturbing book, not because of Raskolnikov's minutely-described act of violence, but because of Dostoevsky's pitiless, unblinking gaze at poverty. I can't remember the last time a description of hunger and hopelessness had such a visceral effect on me. I kept wanting to grab Raskolnikov by the collar and scream "EAT SOMETHING!!"
First rate on all counts. Highly recommended.
I was excited to see an audiobook of The Mysterious Island, one of my favorite novels by Jules Verne. Berny Clark does a good job narrating the book. I'd love to give it five stars, but unfortunately the producers decided to use a mediocre 19th-century translation that renames three of the characters and cuts some of the main points from a certain life story that forms the climax of the novel. (If you haven't read it before, I won't say anything more than that; just remember, when you get to this point, that Verne's original text is far more radical politically than what you're listening to.)
At least it's a mediocre translation and not a completely bungled one, unlike the "standard" version of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea or the "Hardwigg" version of Journey to the Center of the Earth. The story (apart from some of the political shading) is intact, and the story of this resolute band of escapees and their skin-of-their-teeth survival on the island has always been, for me, a compelling and gripping one. My three stars for the story are directed at the translation, not the original. I wish a different translation were used, but I'm glad to have it.
Seamus Heaney is a wonderful poet and a wonderful reader: listening to him is like hearing the original poet holding forth. But the reading is abridged, in what seems more like a marketing decision -- trying to fit the audiobook onto a two-CD set -- than an artistic one. "Beowulf" could certainly use some abridgement here and there, and I wouldn't mind if there were only minor omissions; but among the episodes cut is the challenge that Unferth issues to Beowulf about his swimming contest with Brecca. This isn't just empty padding: it's essential to the characters of both Unferth and Beowulf. In many ways this is the best single recording of "Beowulf" available: why couldn't there be an unabridged (or at least a less-abridged) version as well? That would get six stars out of five. No other version comes close to the mastery of language shown by this one.