I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
This is an utterly charming audiobook! Arthur Ransome's story about the four Walker siblings ("Able Seaman" Titty being my favorite!) and the two "Amazon Pirate" girls and their idyllic adventures during a perfect August in 1929 sailing around a big lake in the Lake District and camping on Wild Cat Island in it is vividly, humorously, winningly told. Ransome is so good at capturing how kids play, with one half of their minds and hearts in fantasyland (pirates, explorers, the Pacific ocean, sharks, buried treasure, sea battles, walking the plank, deserted islands, etc.) and one half in the real world (making safe fires, cleaning fish and pots and pans, teaching a younger sibling how to swim, managing sailboats efficiently, etc.). He's so good at depicting how their thoughts and imaginations and hearts work! And his girls, especially Titty and Nancy, are at least as imaginative, bold, wild, and strong as the boys.
I cringed at first when I heard the kids referring to the "natives" (locals) from the standpoint, I thought, of "civilized white explorers," but then it turned out to be their way of signifying killjoy adults who are too serious to enter into the kids' fantasy world and became a complex and interesting use of language.
The reader, Alison Larkin, is perfectly suited to the book. She speaks clearly, thoroughly understands and feels what she's reading, slightly varies her voice for the different characters (from Ship's Boy Roger to Captain Flint), and speaks with infectious good humor and spirit, so that listening to Ransome's delightful text becomes a big smiling and chuckling pleasure.
The book is also surprisingly moving (without being at all sentimental), as when, near the end, Mrs. Dixon, the local farm woman who has been supplying the kids with fresh milk every morning, says she'll miss them after they leave the lake the next day, and Titty says, "But we'll be back next year and every year after that for ever and ever," and Mrs. Dixon replies, "Aye
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.
Listening to Kidnapped was a great adventure! While the story itself is not as intoxicating as Treasure Island, it is exciting, fascinating, grueling, moving, suspenseful, and funny. And Alan Breck Stewart, the outlawed Scottish lord on the run with first person narrator young David Balfour, is an even more appealing rogue-mentor-friend than Long John Silver: proud, hot-tempered, quick to take offense, loyal, brave, humorous, strong (when it comes to fighting and fleeing), weak (when it comes to playing cards and blowing the bagpipes), a complex, fully rounded person. It is a pleasure (that finally becomes quite poignant) to accompany the pair as they struggle to escape south over the dangerous, inhospitable heather covered highlands of northern Scotland through numerous patrolling red-coats.
Stevenson depicts the political and historical setting of mid-eighteenth-century Scotland complexly, depicting the rebellious Highlanders with sympathy for their loyalty, honor, and resilience, even as he exposes their pride, grudges, and violence.
Frederick Davidson does an excellent job reading the novel, appropriately making David na??ve and youthful, Alan experienced and mature, and all the other supporting characters just right for their roles and personalities.
The only criticism I could make with this production is to say that it has Davidson somewhat startlingly announce the next chapter number and title without pausing after ending the present chapter, but that is a very minor quibble about what is a great audiobook.
The reviewer who mentioned Princess Bride was right. I bought this on a whim (and a liking for Bronson Pinchot's reading). I hated it at first - was very close to taking the return option - but I was trying to listen to it on a workday. Gave it another chance on the weekend - it is definitely a weekend or vacation or road trip book - then had trouble putting it down. It is very silly and the plot feels like it is being made up as it goes along, But its all a great romp with a reader who brings the bizarre cast of characters to life. If you like Princess Bride and/or the Jasper Fforde Nursery Crime books,or just want something very light to listen to, give this one a try.