I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Which is more impressive in this audiobook, the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde or the readings of them by the assembled famous British actors? At their best, Wilde's stories are exquisitely beautiful and painful and reveal deep understanding of the tragedy of the human condition (mortality, inequality, prejudice, selfishness, and hatred), as well as its transcendence through generosity, self-sacrifice, beauty, faith, and love. The readers are perfect, with wise, compassionate, and flexible voices and deep understanding of each word they say and of each scene they depict.
Special highlights are Dame Judi Dench reading "The Nightingale and the Rose" so full of wit and emotion, Jeremy Irons reading "The Devoted Friend" with a surprisingly wide range of voices for different characters, Joanna Lumley reading "The Star Child" and moving me to tears, and Robert Harris reading "The Happy Prince" and moving me to tears, too, especially whenever he says, "Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow." Sir Derek Jacobi reading "The Fisherman and His Soul," Sinead Cusack reading "The Birthday of the Infanta," and Sir Donald Sinden reading "The Selfish Giant" all do fine jobs with fine tales.
The only dud (forgive the pun) is "The Remarkable Rocket," which, despite Geoffrey Palmer's excellent reading and despite the interesting concept (sentient fireworks talking about their upcoming royal display) is finally a mediocre joke that long overstays its welcome. The only disappointment is that the cover art says that there is a bonus track of "The Actress" read by Elaine Stritch, but it's absent from the audiobook.
Anyway, I highly recommend this excellent audiobook.
"Rascal Jan" is a little boy preternaturally skilled at picking pockets, "organizing" supplies, and befriending animals. Beneath the hard shell of experience that living through World War II in Poland has forced on him, he retains part of his true boyish nature. The three children of Joseph Balicki, twelve-year-old Ruth, eleven-year-old Edek, and three-year-old Bronia, also experience omnipresent danger and premature responsibility as they try to survive on their own in occupied and war-ravaged Warsaw. After the first five chapters depict the attempts of Joseph Balicki, the father of the children, to escape from a Nazi prison camp in the snowy Polish mountains so as to be able to return to Warsaw where he believes his family is waiting for him, Ian Siraillier's novel The Silver Sword (1956) recounts the story of the children's extraordinary attempts to reunite with their sundered parents.
The novel is a concise epic of a World War II era story, mostly from the point of view of children. Seraillier tells a tale full of suspense and vivid historical details, but also takes time to provide comic relief, especially through Jan. Seraillier movingly depicts the harmful and traumatic effects of war on children, how it messes with their memories and personalities and prematurely ages them through privation and danger and grief and too much responsibility. The child characters, little Bronia, wild Jan, ethical Edek, and mother-by-necessity Ruth all feel like real children forced to adapt to life in wartime. Without showing any battles, the novel reveals the insanity of war by which entire cities are reduced to rubble, parents and children lose each other, and people of different countries are fighting each other to the death one moment and working together to build a village for orphan children the next. Jan's feral hatred of all soldiers, be they German, Russian, or American, is telling. He cannot trust any of them, regardless of what side they are on, because he has learnt that being a soldier involves brutality and cold adherence to rules. Luckily for the children, kind people do exist in wartime, even, occasionally, soldiers. Several moments in the novel induced me to sob and smile at the same time.
The reader, Sean Barrett, does a great job, his rich and clear voice sensitive to the spare beauty of the text and to the powerful emotions of the children. I even got a kick out of his "American" English for the American soldiers.
People interested in historical war stories told from the points of view of children would find The Silver Sword of great interest (though many of the more gruesome and terrifying facts of war like corpses and rape are elided). Child readers would be absorbed in it without being traumatized. I only wished it had lasted longer.
Mary Norton???s The Borrowers (1952) begins with old Mrs. May telling to a ???wild??? girl called Kate a story that her younger brother told her when they were children. The story is about his meeting a family of little people--???Borrowers???--living secretly beneath the kitchen floorboards of Aunt Sophy???s big old country house and ???borrowing??? what they need from its ???giant human beans.??? Could he see things other people couldn???t see, or was he only making believe? Kate wants to believe all of it. Inside that frame, Norton recounts how the family of tiny Borrowers, the Clocks, go about their daily lives until their comfortable existence ends after they are seen by a giant human boy, Mrs. May???s nine-year-old brother.
I love the vivid depiction of the way of life of the Clocks, mother Homily, father Pod, and thirteen-year-old daughter Arrietty, from their miniature point of view. They are so clever at adopting and adapting items borrowed from the big house: postage stamp paintings, toothbrush hairbrushes, cigar box bedrooms, and so on. And they must at all costs avoid being seen by humans, because ???No good never really come to no one from any human bean,??? as Pod says to Arrietty, who is chafing at being confined to their dark passages under the floorboards. The contrasting perspectives of the boy and Arrietty are amusing, he calling borrowing stealing, she saying that ???human beans??? are dying out (because she???s only ever seen a few), he saying that he???s seen hundreds and thousands of ???human beings,??? but only two Borrowers, and so on.
Rowena Cooper gives a clear and passionate reading of the book, and I like her commonsensical Pod, adventurous Arrietty, and lonely boy, but her Homily is too shrill for my ears.
The novel is poignant. The first chapter reveals that the boy grew up to be killed in war, and Mrs. May is an old woman remembering him and his story about the Borrowers, who even when he was a boy were dwindling. There is, then, a lot of loss in the book, of loved ones, familiar homes, and youth. There is also a lot of yearning for adventure, companions, and possessions. And finally it is ambiguous as to whether or not the Borrowers really exist or were made up by the boy, Mrs. May, and Kate.
But they must exist! It???s so wonderful to imagine that whenever we lose something small, an earring, a safety pin, a watch, a Borrower has borrowed it.
I had bought this book downloadable to my kindle and read it to my six-year old daughter.She was thoroughly enchanted with the story, loved the adventure with the dragon. I thought this would be a good story for her to listen to in the car or at bedtime, and the audio book version is great! The author does a really nice job reading her book. My daughter asks for it every time we drive anywhere, and she's already looking forward to the next one in the Alfie Sandwich Series.