I try very hard not to write a review till I've listened to the whole thing. But I have to make an exception for this one. So far I've listened to The Inferno; but since I've already read the translation itself in its entirety, I'm going to stick my neck out.
This is brilliant. I'm in Heaven, so to speak. Clive James has created an unusual but consistently effective translation: rather than trying to reproduce Dante's terza rima, he plays to his own strengths by translating into quatrains, a verse form at which he is particularly adept. The result is a subtle but ever-present drumbeat of rhyme. There are better versions of individual passages in other translations, but I've never read one where the whole thing hangs together and flows together so smoothly.
James also adds clarifying phrases here and there throughout the translation to reduce the need for footnotes. (A good thing: the printed book doesn't have any.)
These clarifying phrases are not as extensive as those in the Audiobook Contractors version, read by Grover Gardner; but they serve the purpose, and they make it possible to listen without constantly feeling the need to look things up.
The result is a translation that demands to be read aloud. Edoardo Ballerini does a terrific job with the narration, capturing the Pilgrim's sense of wonder and letting the poetry unfold in its own effortless way. Ballerini is one of those narrators who conveys dialogue by suggestion rather than outright imitation of different voices. But the voices are there anyway, partly because of Dante's skill and partly because Clive James does such a good job conveying them. When passion is called for, Ballerini gives voice to passion; likewise when the speaker is giving voice to shame, anger, or pride.
Get it. Listen to it. Enjoy it. Learn from it. Treasure it.
Caveat: I've read the Comedy several times, in several different translations, with several different sets of footnotes. I couldn't claim to be a master of the allusions in the poem, but I'm comfortable with them. (When the wind is southerly I can tell a Guelf from a Ghibelline.) As such, it's hard for me to imagine the viewpoint of someone coming to this material for the first time. I THINK this would be anyone's ideal introduction to Dante, and I hope first time listeners will tackle this version and leave their reactions.
For myself, all I can say is that it will be a cold day in Hell (so to speak) before I re-read, or re-listen, to this masterpiece in any other format. There is no question in my mind that this is hands down the best audiobook version of Dante's masterpiece available.
John Lee gives a hearty but flawed performance of "Ulysses." The energy and the humor come through -- this is, after all, one of the funniest books ever written -- but there are quieter moments as well, and these fare badly: Lee delivers everything at a breakneck pace, not so much narrating the book as declaiming it.
In addition, there are some errors in the production design of the audiobook that detract from its effectiveness. First and foremost, "Ulysses" is full of music, from snatches of song to the quarter-hour tolling of a bell tower. All are rendered in the same straightforward declamatory prose style of the rest of the narration. Second -- and it's possible this is a problem with the Audible rendering rather than the original audiobook -- the episodes all run together without a second's pause between them. Whether you view the book as three long chapters or eighteen separate episodes, there are clear indications of breaks throughout the text, each accompanied by major changes in tone, style, and narrator. Here, the last sentence of one and first sentence of the next seem to be delivered in the same breath.
It seems to be using a better (more recent) text than the Naxos version. The Naxos version has a number of other flaws as well, but it does a far better job of capturing the music and the rhythm of the narration than Blackstone's offering. If Blackstone were willing to undertake it, a little re-engineering of this title could make a huge difference and might justify a higher rating.
I purchased this title several months ago on CD and have been hoping for some time that Audible would make it available. It's an unusual version of the Divine Comedy: a fresh translation with a kind of built-in study guide. Brief explanations of most of the allusions in this complex poem are woven into the text. For example, where Dante might refer to "the Eagle," this translation says: "the Eagle, emblem of the Empire."
There is one drawback to this, and that is that Dante's allusions are not always so clear-cut. The translator has typically chosen a single concrete tag line among the many possible annotations. But this audiobook is an introduction, not a substitute for an intensive study of Dante. It's meant to be an enjoyable and comprehensible audiobook, something that will give you more of the Divine Comedy on a first listen than you can get from most of the others available.
I've read the Commedia several times in a variety of translations, and despite my familiarity with many of the passages, I found these small additions to the text quite helpful. It's easy when reading the poem to forget who was a Guelph and who was a Ghibelline; this audiobook helps you keep it straight.
Although I haven't seen the text in print (I'm not sure if it's even available), the translation appears to be prose. The translator has tried to capture some of the poetic energy of the work by making extensive use of alliteration rather than rhyme. Most of the time this works admirably; sometimes it's a strain.
Grover Gardner, a Virgil among readers, gives his usual sterling narration.
I would suggest, if you do get this, that you listen to it in small doses. Despite the helpful features of the translation, Dante's poem remains dense with symbol and meaning. There's a lot to take in. Go slow and savor.