Shakespeare, Dickens, Homer, Mark Twain, Walt Disney, History.
I avoided this book for a long time: who wants to read a book about a person who's so good everyone around him thinks he's an idiot?
Boy, was I wrong. This is an intense and brooding novel, filled with Dostoevsky's usual array of deeply conflicted characters and blistering monologues. The idiot himself, Prince Myshkin, is no pushover: maybe he's a bit naive at times, but he insists on treating people as equals and assuming their good intentions until contrary evidence is overwhelming. He suffers from epilepsy, and in the course of the novel has a couple of seizures that dramatically alter the direction of the story.
Superficially, the novel is about Myshkin's conflicted relationships with two women: Aglaya, the youngest daughter of a distant relative, with whom he is in love; and Anastassya Filippovna, a "fallen woman" who's been fobbed off by her former lover and who seems to be drifting from one self-destructive relationship to another. Myshkin may have loved her once, but now he mainly pities her. Aglaya, who at one point seems willing to marry Myshkin, ultimately breaks off because of his obsession with Anastassya.
But that's only one small facet of this complex, teeming book. The characters are captivating, the scenes at times almost hypnotic in their intensity. I've only read a few of Dostoevsky's novels, but so far I'm inclined to say this is probably my favorite.
Robert Whitfield (=Simon Vance) gives a stellar reading. Of particular note is his ability to distinguish the voices of the many women in the book: sometimes the shading is subtle, but I always knew instantly who was talking. Well done, highly recommended.
This is one of Kate Reading's better narrations, and the material could not be more compelling. Translated by Lydia Davis (master short story writer!), the book is both light and tragic, humorous and disturbing, emotional and cerebral. Flaubert is one of the few who can do that. The tragedy of Emma and the triumphs of Homais are delicately rendered in this smart translation.
Reading reads with perfect inflections, making Emma sound airy and "arty," Charles slow and pitiful, Leon slippery, etc. No silly attempts at trying to sound male; just excellent infusions of the character's personality into his/her voice to make him/her sound believable. The speed is just right. I've heard other narrations by Kate Reading and some don't match up in quality or direction.
The writing style seems so effortless and light that you almost think Flaubert knocked it out with the wave of a hand, but as you keep listening, you realize what a brilliantly composed, tightly plotted piece this is. Also superb is Davis's introduction in the print version. It's not in the audio version, but if you can get your hands on a print (or digi) copy, by all means, read!