This story captivated me three minutes into its telling, and nineteen hours later I found myself unwilling to let the characters go. The central character is possibly Ireland's last seanachi, a wandering storyteller who tells the tales that make up Irish history and folklore. We first meet and subsequently follow the seanachi through the eyes of Ronan O'Mara, who in 1951 was nine years old. The magic of those stories stays with Ronan, who vows to find the man somehow and hear more tales. Ronan's quest leads him eventually to a degree in history, and a tour of self-discovery, and along the way he becomes quite an accomplished storyteller himself.
But at its core, this is the story of Ireland itself told by a native son with pride and nostagia. We sit by the fireside listening right along with the villagers who crowd into the house, and Frank Delaney is himself the seanachie. And what a job he does!! He turns the tables on the dictum that writers should never read their own works. I am convinced that no one but Delaney could do this immense work justice. It is grand. And so is he.
I was not familiar with the author before this, and selected the book just because I've heard Trevor referred to as "another Chekhov." This collection of short stories deals with sometimes uncomfortable truths and disillusioned relationships. Yes, the characters are forlorn, but how many of us reach middle-age without a few regrets? I think Trevor knows us all, and so I found the stories compelling.
However, Trevor is a demanding author, and you do need to listen carefully to catch the sometimes subtle time lapses. But he is never less than amazing -- he seems to paint portraits of totally ordinary people who are yet so very memorable. Another reviewer wrote that "ending a short story does not allow us to leave the characters alone." The stories are, in a word, unforgettable.
The narration was excellent as well. Two narrators alternated with the 12 tales, and both were wonderful. I would listen again, on a train ride, or on vacation.
Firstly, this is a long book. So go into it knowing it will be as long as, say, Anna Karenina or Moby Dick. And don't be surprised.
That said, I loved the seamless blending of historical and fictional and fantastical characters. It is the England of Hardy or Austen, yet an England where the Duke of Wellington takes a court magician to Waterloo to confound the enemy.
According to Mr. Norrell, the time has come for magic's rebirth in England. And how better than through himself? Though he steadfastly wants to remain England's only magician, he reluctantly takes a student in Jonathan Strange. Together they amaze English society and England's government, and both allow and manipulate some amazing events.
Setting the stage for a tale like this takes some time, so be patient and you will get to the story. I must admit the first few hours were slower than the rest. But once hooked, I couldn't wait to return to listening.
However, during a 3-hour car ride, my husband listened to it with me. He complained that he kept waiting for a plot. Clearly, the formless flow of this work is not for everyone.
We did agree on the narration, though. Simon Prebble is a listener's dream; his mastery of voices is exceptional, and his reading flows without the distraction that abrupt changes in timbre sometimes cause. Women voices, fairy voices, his wonderfully clear diction, all were perfect. I admit I did not notice his mispronunciation of Sidhe, though had I, it would mar his performance only slightly.
In the end, I decided that this work is, as another listener remarked, like a Theroux travelogue - the journey IS the destination. Well worth the long ride.
I just hope it doesn't take Clarke another ten years to get the next book out!
An aged former private investigator writes to the nephew of a department store heiress about a case thirty years prior involving an Egyptologist who was engaged to marry the heiress aunt. Like most of the characters in this tedious book, the old guy thinks he's much more than he is. And he wants to be much more than that. From slow start to boring middle to boring finish, the only remaining mystery is why I listened to the entire book!
I'd sure like to know the most boring book the other reviewer ("second worst book I ever listened to") listened to, to make sure I never order it.
The single star is for the plot technique of telling the story through multiple points of view solely through correspondence of the characters. (That, and the fact that one is the lowest number a reviewer can assign.)
The "mystery" is solved by the average reader about halfway through. The main character - the Egyptologist - is a deluded megalomaniac, so unlikeable that he makes a bad book worse. The other characters are his equal. Whatever was the author thinking?
Regarding the "question for Haig readers:" If you like Nelson deMille, you'll no doubt like Haig. If there are not enough quality audible reviews for a book, I usually look through the amazon reviews to see how the book fared with print readers. In this case, very well. Several reviewers admitted this was their first encounter with Haig, yet did not regret having "started in the middle." Hope this helps.
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