This is a very challenging book, as are all of Eco’s previous ones. I particularly want to praise here the fantastic job reader George Guidall has done bringing the book to life. This is one of the best audiobook presentations I’ve heard. So many distinct characters, the felicitous vocal inflections, the pacing, I can’t recommend it enough.
At last George Guidall has re-recorded Gravity’s Rainbow, and the result is magnificent. The tempo is a little slower, which is altogether to the good, but he recites instead of singing the songs, a loss (though thankfully he does vocalize the melody to Cielito Lindo recognizably (Ja, ja, ja ja! In Prussia they never eat p?ssy…)). Please, audiobook producers, have him record V., Pynchon’s first novel. And don’t skimp on Pynchon’s hilarious take on the Colonel Bogie March, let ‘er rip.
Concerning the novel itself, I’ve known intelligent people of good taste who simply couldn’t get through it. It’s very challenging, and not for everyone. I suggest trying Inherent Vice, or even The Crying of Lot 49 (which was my first), to test the waters. Just as one should read Portrait of the Artist before trying Ulysses. Then, prepare to be absorbed: study of this book will surely knock out a couple months of your life. In a good way.
This version includes Gibbon's lengthy (and often essential) footnotes, inserted into the body of the text (with the words "footnote" and "end footnote" before and after). I believe the result is the best audiobook version of this classic. The reader is excellent: always energetic, while bringing the required weight, wit, and occasional sarcasm into his delivery.
Pynchon (who presumably wrote the jacket copy) says he’s channeling his inner Jewish mother in Bleeding Edge, and I suspect this is what inspired the choice of reader. Jeannie Berlin is soon to be seen as Aunt Reet in the film version of Inherent Vice, and sounds like a middle-aged New York Jew. Older than Maxine, the main character, so perhaps we're hearing Maxine’s chronically disapproving mother tell her story. Like all the other reviewers to date, my initial reaction to the narration of this audiobook was, to quote from the text: Wahhabi Transreligious Friendship (to the unitiated, that’s Whisky Tango Foxtrot)! But I made it to the end, then read through my hard copy, and finally started the audiobook again (yeah, I’m that big a Pynchon fan). Now I’m liking it quite a bit.
True, the cool jazz rhythms of Pynchon’s prose become jarringly stilted at times, and the characterizations are hit and miss, particularly with the male characters. She doesn’t even try to perform the songs, and I don’t think I’d want to hear her try. Nevertheless, it has grown on me, and I think it got better as it went on. I wouldn’t be too surprised to learn that Pynchon himself advised on and approved this production. It's unique.
About the book, if you’re not already a Pynchon fan this is a good place to start, though if you’re going to start with an audiobook I’d suggest Inherent Vice, with is masterfully performed. If you’re already a fan you’re going to get it (in one form or another) no matter what I say, so try the sample of the audiobook and decide from there.
This is probably the single best audiobook I’ve gotten from Audible. The narraration is exceptional, I very much wish this reader would also record Pynchon’s earlier novel Vineland. McLarty’s performance of the songs is all one could ask for, the many characters are distinctly rendered, and he simply breathes the rhythm of the prose. The story itself is Pynchon’s most accessible, relatively short and with an ideal balance of straightforward plotting offset with the characteristic comic digressions that one expects from the author. If you haven’t tried him before, this is a good place to start.
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is an enabler.”
Taking in the story of Hunter it occurred to me that it is, perhaps by design, an almost perfect inversion of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Where Hugo exposes a bygone criminal justice system that victimized the “guilty”, all out of proportion to their crimes, Bidinotto exposes a contemporary system that actually enables fearsome criminals, and has become part of the violent crime problem in a different way.
Bidinotto is famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) for exposing the Willie Horton case that defined the failed Presidential candidacy of Michael Dukakis in 1988. Here he is, decades later, distilling the same outrage into an effective work of fiction, his first. He’s a long time admirer (devotee?) of Ayn Rand, and the influence shows, a particular scene late in the book evokes the hijacked radio address at the climax of Atlas Shrugged, though Bidinotto’s version is blessedly shorter. Above all the influence shows in the clarity of the prose, and the fact that while Hunter has the elements of a thriller, it’s ultimately a morality tale.
The narrator does a fine job, though I have a minor quibble. For most of the book, there’s little question who “the killer” is. This isn’t an Agatha Christie mystery, building to a big reveal at the end. However, early on, the grammar used to refer to the killer is strictly pronouns, I believe the author doesn’t want you to have ID’d which character it is, yet. The narrator, however, uses the same distinct timbre he used for the killer for another major character, so even if Bidinotto had employed all of Agatha Christie’s gifts for misdirection, you’d have to know who it is. It's certainly a characterful narration however, all the way down to the stubborn feline.
This version is too heavily abridged, the unabridged version by Alexander Adams (aka Grover Gardner) is superior in every way. Too bad it’s not available, it was only ever available on cassette tapes. Tim Curry brings drama to this version, though he mispronounces some names (notably Wagner, where the desired pronunciation is specified in the text) and his vigorous inflection of the key phrase “Ma gavte la nata” is completely wrong.
Some of the book is retranslated, and some foreign phrases that, in the text, remain as foreign phrases, are instead translated into English. One egregious case of mistranslation comes near the end, during Casaubon’s final meeting with Wagner, whose reply “Monsieur, vous etes fou”, is rendered as “Monsieur, you are a fool” (it should be: Sir, you are insane).
Another complaint is about the distorted sound quality of the transitional music, which I regard as extraneous in any event. Nevertheless, on balance I did enjoy listening to this, being quite fanatical about the book. Hopefully the unabridged versions of Eco’s novels will reappear.
The narration sounds exemplary so far, but I must complain that the six+ hours of audio is divided into ten "Chapters" that don't cue to the stories. There should be 13 short stories, it would be nice if there were 13 "Chapters" and they each cued to the beginning of a story.
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