I have kept a running stockpile of unlistened-to books in my library lately. "Light in August" somehow kept dropping to the bottom of the pile while new purchases were flowing in. As often happens the book I had been trying so carefully to avoid turned out to be the best of the lot. And not by a narrow margin either.
The novel is set in the American South in the 19th century or possibly early 20th. The central strand of the plot is the story of Joe Christmas who has some "n-word blood" in him that dooms him from the start in the society he is born into. And one day there is a big fire and his life is about to take yet another turn...
For me, it was even more about how it was written. I was especially impressed by the language. So vidid, so natural, so simple yet so beautiful. Much of the credit should go to the narrator for the interpretation. This was much more than simply reading. The accents were so melodious like these people were almost singing.
I would not say that this book was especially challenging. You do have to keep a minimum level of concentration though. It is not one of those books you can tune out of and then jump right back in at any time. The characters that were introduced by name at the beginning of a chapter may be referred to only as "he" or "she" for the rest of the chapter.
This book is somewhat reminiscent of "White Teeth" by Zadie Smith. Both deal with meeting of immigrant (Indian in Kureishi's novel, Bangladeshi and Jamaican in "White Teeth") and European cultures. This is shown happening across several generations. Immigrants have children and the traditional generation gap that arises is still widened by civilization differences. The children often face identity problem.
The reader is competent. Not too fast not too slow, and doing a good job with accents. The only downside to this production is the quality of sound. Various parts of this audio give the impression of being recorded in different environments of which I was able to distinguish a dungeon and a bathroom.
I am also glad to get hold of the original 1897 version of this classic horror. This audio is performed by a full cast which, as one reviewer pointed out, fits the story perfectly. Even more so because the novel is composed entirely of journal entries of its characters (one phonograph journal interestingly), letters, notes, newspaper clippings, logbooks, memoranda, cables and other various records. Having seen the 1992 movie before listening to this I have to say that count Dracula appears in the book rather less often than I expected. His slayer, Abraham van Helsing, gets most of the attention instead. Van Helsing is a Dutch professor whose mode of expression is quite peculiar. I would go as far as to say that it is too peculiar for a main protagonist of an 18-hour audiobook. Not being a native English speaker he is constantly trying to be too eloquent given the modest means at his disposal. I know that this was probably the idea, but my impression is that it has been somewhat overdone. The book is also accompanied by sound effects. They are a bit on the cheap side, but it was good to hear "children of the night" speak from time to time.
Listening to his book is like solving a jigsaw puzzle. I like the way old memoirs found in the attic, seemingly unrelated events and people gradually fall into place to form a whole picture at the conclusion. Unexpected ending is a must-be in Coe's novels so I anticipated one here as well. But I believe that even if I had spent ages trying to figure that one out I wouldn't have come up with the missing piece.
Maxwell Sim is who Adrian Mole could be at 48. Naive almost to the point of childishness, low on self-esteem and "on the rebound" (for years now). Both have a comic trait to them but tragicomic is an adjective that would characterize Sim better (although there is a sort of a happy ending). His life is so mundane and his attempts to change it so pathetic that maybe one could not even call him that. Yet at the same time you cannot help liking him (clever how Coe constructs his characters) because being the narrator he keeps trying to convice you he is you pal. Most of the thoughts he offers reflect those of an average man living at the end of the 1st decade of the 21th century (eg. "these bankers and their bonuses, it's outrageous", "I have a million friends on Facebook and hardly anybody I could talk to, whatever happened to eye-to-eye contact these days?" etc) and are never controversial.
There was one thread I found a little bothersome. While on a journey to Shetlands Sim starts to have conversations with his sat nav. It was funny for the first hour but as the journey continued and he kept that up it began to get a bit annoying. Especially that with a couple of exceptions "continue on the current motorway" was the only response he could extract from the machine. There was a point at which I was on the brink of deciding to rate the book 2/6 because of this, but then, fortunately, his car battery went flat.
"A Case of Exploding Mangoes" is not a literary masterpiece but it would make for a good movie. I especially enjoyed the poignantly satirical "dictatorial" subplot culminated by General Zia's bike trip. The book is well read.
The author does well to capture the image of a post-war English countryside. Simon Vance's narration is more than decent. I found the plot a bit dull and predictible however. The one thing that surprised me was... the anticlimactic ending. Not being an enthusiast of the genre I can think of only one more reason to recommend this book; it is an easy listen, ideal for when driving a car.
The way this story is told makes it even more disturbing.
Martin Amis' masterly prose is matched by Steven Pacey's narration which at times can send shivers down your spine.
One of the best audiobooks I have listened to.
An average reader may not grasp a concept of a 26-dimensional space but there are more than a couple of things he can be amazed to learn from this book. Hawking delves pretty deep into relativity theory, quantum mechanics and some other current theories (as of 1988). Among topics covered are speculation (though not without solid scientific basis) on the origins of the universe, black holes and singularities.
Michael Jackson's narration is somewhat lax and a bit unprepared to say the least. But somehow it does not spoil the book. On the one hand Mr Jackson stumbles over words, mispronouces them (neutron/neuron, protons/Plutos?), pauses mid-sentence, hesitates, at times seems to be brooding over a previous paragraph and on the other hand he has a good voice and reads with genuine emotion. It is not often you hear a narrator actually laugh while they are reading something that was meant to amuse the listener.
If it does not put you off - give it a try, by all means.
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