So...you're telling me I can pay people to read books to me whilst I do other things?
I'd read Donna Tartt's Secret History years ago and loved it; I became aware of this latest work via a recent NYT book review by Stephen King.
This is mostly an homage to Dickens, but the layer of art history--specifically Dutch masters--makes it all the more compelling.
Like Dickens, Tartt weaves an epic and sympathetic tale, replete with colorful characters--both virtuous, villainous, and somewhere in-between--(which are, of course the most interesting ones). Dickens fans will love picking out the numerous references throughout the book, but you do not need to be familiar with his works to appreciate this book.
After all, there is a reason Dickens was so popular--he could tell a story and make you love and/or hate his characters, and Tartt is definitely able to weave that same kind of magic.
David Pittu does a masterful job narrating this behemoth of a book. Considering he's carrying the protagonist's voice from age 15 to....late 20's?, plus so many other voices, accents and dialects, I'm not sure who could have done it better..
As is often the case with these long books, we become habituated and truly hate for them to end.
I'm thirsting to download another epic novel--any recommendations?
As William Gibson says, "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed", and it's hard to think of another time and place in history when this doesn't seem more true than the turn of the 19th century.
Fever is not only a fascinating snapshot of the seismic demographic and technological shifts that took place during the late 19th and early 20th century, but is also a truly compelling--and at times almost heartbreakingly tragic--story about a woman who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in history.
Because it becomes clear early on that "Typhoid Mary" was by no means the only one unwittingly spreading the typhoid bacteria around New York City and Long Island.
What made her so special was her profession as a private cook in a modern city, where it wasn't unusual for well-to-do families to hire their help as needed through reputable agencies, and where it wasn't unusual for a cook to work for a series of different employers over the years. And it also wasn't usual for an otherwise meticulous and starchy-clean servant to not make a point of washing her hands after using the bathroom or before preparing food.
Which seems so counter-intuitive today, but even though germ theory and the study of how bacteria and disease was spread were already well-developed fields among academics and scientists --I'm pretty sure Dr. Lister invented his antibacterial Listerine back around 1870? -- for some reason the whole concept of washing hands and sanitizing kitchens hadn't yet trickled down to the immigrant and working classes, even though they a were largely literate population. Like the future, such ideas were obviously not yet universally distributed.
Which was one of the reasons it was so so hard for Mary to believe it was anything but pure coincidence that so many she'd cooked for over the years got sick. Sure, people around her got fevers and some of them even died--where does that not happen? (In Ireland they called that Tuesday, ba dump bump) Throw in some all-too human defense mechanisms and guilt-borne denial (all brilliantly unfolded by the author) and you have a walking time bomb.
Which brings me to what I think made this book such a winner for me--the historical details alone would have been enough to keep me engaged, but Keane's character portrayal of Mary felt so authentic that I had to keep reminding myself this is historical fiction, not non-fiction. (Meticulously researched, no doubt--but much conjecture nonetheless.) Add to that the dramatic tension created by the two men in her life: the Javert-like Dr. Soper, and Alfred, the no-good bum she just can't stop lovin'--and it starts to read like a darned good screenplay.
I have to admit that I wasn't sure about the narrator at first; she started off a bit stiff and rote, with only a barely discernible Irish accent for Mary. But as Mary warmed and opened up to us, so did the passion in the narration. Whether this was a deliberate strategy or just a matter of Thaxton finding her rhythm I'm not sure, but either way it totally works.
Oh, and be forewarned: You'll probably be Googling throughout the book--for images of Mary and Dr. Soper, maps of the East River, the history of typhoid fever--just to name a few--so make sure you have access to an connected device before you start listening!
If you loved Little House in the Big Woods or Girl with the Pearl Earring, stop reading and download right now, because you will loooove this. (I'm not kidding--you can thank me later.)
This is not to diminish the unraveling story or real-life plight of protagonist Agnes Magnusdottir-- --which is fascinating and mysterious on its own- but the details Kent provides about everyday life in early 19th C Iceland are, for history buffs, seriously delicious.
The writing is beautiful and the narration is top-notch--I'm guessing Morven Christie put in a considerable amount of time to get the scenes and pronunciation right, and it definitely shows. She's flawless!
This novel transports you to another time and place, while also connecting you to real events and persons.
What more could you want?