Les Miserables is my favorite novel of all time. It is a big, long, involved book. You may want to read an abridged version, although I would not.
Some people have compared Jean Valjean to a Christ-type figure, but I strongly disagree with the analogy. Rather, the Bishop of Digne is most definitely the Christ figure. Valjean becomes, by virtue of the Good Man buying his soul, a counter part of Everyman. As he tries to make himself an honest man, he goes through struggle after struggle, but with the determination to live up to the vision the Bishop had of him when he gave Valjean the silver. The Bishop seems to already have transcended the bigger part of his humanness, and in fact, as he pays for the sins of Valjean, seems to have completed his work of becoming perfect. The silver was his last holdout, his last symbol of desiring the things of the earth, and he gave them away without a second thought when he realized that another of God's sons needed it worse. As I watch Valjean's transformation, it is impossible not to see myself in him.
Now, about the narrator. I have read reviews on Frederick Davidson that consider him everywhere from the absolute worst to someone you have to acquire a taste for. I am in the latter category. When I first started listening, I really wondered if I could listen to him read my golden book for 60 hours. Eventually, however, I came to love the man as a narrator, and forgave without a thought his little idiosyncrasies. His characterizations are without equal, and I have heard some pretty astounding narrators. As I listened to the last three hours of Les Miserables, I was putty in Davidson's hands. I cannot even express in words what it was like to listen to him read this most tender and spiritual part. By the end, I was a slobbering mess, but thanking my God for this book, this author and this reader, and the lessons I had learned once again.
I really don't know how to review this book. Every sentence, maybe every word, holds so much symbolic meaning and so much warning for the readers that it is a heavy read. It weighs me down just thinking about it. At the same time, it is a very important book, and one that should be read by anyone who considers him/herself well read. The book is translated from German, by the German author, Franz Kafka. It is frightening from the standpoint that the protagonist, "K," cannot make sense of what is happening to him, and nothing that he can do has any impact on his own life. He is innocent of any crime, yet he is arrested for some unknown offense which he never learns. The trial takes a whole year, but never amounts to anything concrete. Meanwhile, K is free to come and go as he pleases. He goes back to work, and tries to figure out some way of defending himself, but to no avail. Over the course of the year, his mental state deteriorates because of the uncertainty of his status and the hopelessness he feels because he has no control over his own life. I compare the book to "Alice in Wonderland" because nothing is what it seems. The ending is just unreal, and perhaps is a foreshadowing of what happens later in Germany during the Holocaust, another place where nothing is what it seems, and life stops making sense.
It is a disturbing story, and one that could become a reality for any of us if we continue to allow our freedom to be eroded. That is the frightening part.
I'm giving it five stars with reservations, those being that I do not totally understand it yet. I am working on it though. It is a great morality play and a bit of a cautionary tail, and I like that a lot. But there is also a ton of symbolism in it, which I also like, but which I do not fully understand. With the aid of critical analyses, I am learning, though, and will probably reread and re-listen to the story when I get most of that into my head.
The story of Faust is one of a tired and disillusioned old man who, in his deepest darkest thoughts, feels like his life has been such a failure that, when he gets the chance, he sells his soul to the devil in exchange for youth, success, fortune and romance. There is always a dear price tag attached, however, as Faust learns to his horrific consternation.
Sad that we English speakers have to read a translation, but even with that, it is obviously expertly written. I guess foreign speakers feel the same way about Shakespeare, and I hope for their sakes that they have quality translations. Being unable to be anything but ignorant on the subject, I feel that this translation is superior. The beauty of the poetry is breathtaking, and can't help but be favorably compared to Shakespeare. The subject matter is earthy and less than beautiful, yet so relevant, mainly because it is human beings that read this story, and we human types are less than perfect, and often less than beautiful. Our base desires are often selfish, try as we might to rationalize them with "good" motives.
All in all, this is a story I am not finished with yet, and it will probably never be finished with me. At least, not on this earth.
The narrators in this drama are top notch. It was a joy to listen to from that angle.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
The Story of the Volsungs is a classic Icelandic saga, written in the 13th century from much older oral fragments of songs. Eirikr Magnusson and William Morris??? 1888 translation of the saga is fast-paced, coherent, heroic, tragic, and darkly beautiful. It is mostly prose, but includes many passages of poetry or songs. It influenced H. Rider Haggard???s The Saga of Eric Brighteyes, J. R. R. Tolkien???s oeuvre (especially the Silmarillion), and Poul Anderson???s The Broken Sword. If you like such tragic fantastic adventure fiction, if you are interested in Norsemen (Vikings!), or if you enjoy reading epics for their insights into human nature and their windows into different cultures, you should listen to this audiobook.
It begins with a useful 48-minute introduction by H. Halliday Sparling about the historical, religious, political, and cultural context of the Norsemen and of their sagas, which is followed by an 8-minute preface by Magnusson and Morris about their translation.
The saga depicts the interrelated fates of two great Norse families, the Volsungs and the Guikings. From the opening sequence, in which Sigi, grandfather of Volsung, kills a thrall who outperforms him in hunting and then hides his body in a snowdrift, the people in the saga are prey to overwhelming ambition, pride, envy, love, and hate. So there are plenty of battles, with kings killing kings and heroes dealing death till their arms are ???red with blood, even to the shoulders,??? and murders, brothers killing brothers, sons fathers, and mothers children, with poison, sword, or fire. The Norns have already decided the people???s dooms.
There are also fantastic elements aplenty: men change into wolves, nightmares reveal disastrous futures, magic potions make men forget, magical swords are re-forged, Odin interferes with advice, boon, or doom, and so on. There are many great scenes, like Sigurd talking with a dragon about its cursed treasure or finding the sleep-spelled shield-maiden, Brynhild, ???clad in a byrny as closely set on her as though it had grown to her flesh.??? The characters are compelling because they???re so heroic and flawed. Any character might be loathsome one moment and admirable the next, or vice versa.
The saga is not an easy listen, because many characters??? names sound similar and because of the archaic Malory-esque language used by Morris to evoke a timeless and heroic age (so the free online text might be helpful). But there is a dark, spare, grand, and beautiful poetry in his translation, and reader Antony Ferguson treats the text with restraint and fluency, subtly highlighting its terse turns and beautiful flights and rich alliteration, as in the following excerpt:
"So Regin makes a sword, and gives it into Sigurd???s hands. He took the sword, and said???'Behold thy smithying, Regin!' and therewith smote it into the anvil, and the sword brake; so he cast down the brand, and bade him forge a better."
I am very glad to have listened to this saga.