great spy story
no other book. but there's a reference to it in frederick forsyth's "day of the jackal". which is a pretty good "spy" novel, too.
the first 30 pages
BE THE TAG LINE BE???
well, i wouldn't. it would be a pretty insufferable movie, with some horrible juvenile actor, and a lot of fake indian accents. the tag line would need to be "they finally ruined a classic".
this is a novel that most readers won't be able to get into simply by reading it, because it deals with a world that would be alien to a modern reader, incomprehensible. it needs a good reader to give the story a decent airing -- an audio version -- to bring out all the wonderful things that are inside it. this particular reading comes pretty close to being that perfect rendition. if you read the book yourself, the printed version, you'll spend four days in reader's heaven. whereas listening to it, you'll need to pay attention more -- it may take an hour at a time, over a couple of weeks, but once you've got your head around the whole book the first time, you'll be wanting to read it and listen to it again and again, or once every other year. that sort of thing. this is one of those books.
i downloaded this quite some time ago and actually misplaced it somehow in the depths of my computer, and kind of forgot about it. this sort of thing CAN happen, believe it or not. a kafkaesque touch right there, to begin with. anyway, i listened to it now, almost a year later and ---
it is a totally great book.
the reader is terrific, even if he sounds like a person twice the age of kafka when that writer died, but he still sounds like a character straight out of kafka's book. i've heard quite a few audio readings of kafka stories and novels, and this must be the best of the lot.
depending on your take of the story, you might view it as some kind of insane marx brothers comedy, or a demented woody allen story, or a tale of horror and oppression. but no matter, the reader is simply wonderful.
top marks! this is the place to start with on kafka!
even the great w. somerset maugham could, on occasion, bore you to distraction, so his reaction to tom jones -- the book, the classic, not the singer, who came much later -- is of little consequence. he found the book unreadable, boring.
well, the truth is that there's a great deal of utter waffle in this book, which could have been cut, snipped, abbreviated with no ill effect to the story, and in fact maugham did just that. as editor of a series of classic books he shortened tom jones and created a totally readable, totally delightful, version that could be appreciated by any mid-20th century reader.
i find maugham's edited version quite satisfactory, and a delight to read. and maugham's version is only fielding's own version, as edited by a regular modern editor. any other editor today would have done the same, if this had been a manuscript submitted by a modern writer.
so listening to a reading of the original version, with its overgrowth of diversions, digressions, and latin quotes is somewhat distracting. it's easy to lose the story, or the progress of the tale, and even in maugham's shortened edition there comes the point -- roughly around page 260 -- where the story finally grinds to a halt.
but carry on, the book ends gloriously and you would wish that it could continue for ever on. this is a classic, after all.
so my recommendation would be to read the book in some form, study notes, see the movie, read the novel or the maugham version, and THEN get down to the audible version. a great reader. but it took me to around book three or 15 per cent of the text, before i could finally get into the story and the language -- and this, despite having read the book and some secondary material about it. perhaps reading the printed book alongside listening to the audio format may provide a help in finding an easier and faster access to the author's circuitous style.
if you find the book inaccessible, worry not. you've got w. somerset maugham on your side. or try to find a copy of his shortened version. it is by no means a "simplified" or "reader's digest" edition. it's simply a book for modern readers.
i've always liked dustin hoffman AND jerzy kosinski, but i was a tiny bit apprehensive if this was going to be any good. for one, hoffman has, as he has gotten older, acquired a certain set of actory habits that can be a little grating. and for another, there's the movie with peter sellers, which could get in hoffman's or kosinski's way here.
so the pleasant surprise is that hoffman does a subdued job, you barely begin to recognise it's him, even. he rattles through the story at speed, keeping the listener's interest awake and well primed, and yes, there's clearly some irony here, and some satire, but the novel actually predates the reagan presidency, so it should not be confused with, say, a philip roth job on nixon.
it's a short tale, and can be taken in during an afternoon's comfortable session with biscuits and coffee or cakes and ale. and will stay with you for a long time afterwards. i certainly enjoyed listening to this reading, having already read the book and watched the movie.
first of all, let me say that i've read this book and found it a good read, an interesting story, even if it's not always easy to get excited or keep a straight face about a story set in a previous century.
i have no problem understanding british voices, since i've lived in new zealand for several decades, and new zealand is an english speaking country, if you didn't know. part of the british commonwealth, etc.
but kate winslet strikes me, nevertheless, as probably a famous movie actress, but not actually as an exciting voice performer. she manages to swallow entire chunks of words or sentences, usually the tail ends, so that i have to get out the headphones and listen to her under headphones, and still i ask: what? what was that? what did you say?
whether she ever had more than a tiny bit of high school french, i also can't tell, since all the french names and words appear to sound like some indefinite or undefinable nasal sound like "raw can" or "bomb bang" where you lose track of whether she is talking about a person, a place, or some other thing.
this whole thing could have been read by anybody else, just as well, i mean, it didn't call for a british sounding young female reader, an american sounding middle-aged male reader could have served just as well. or possibly better.
so i don't feel that winslet does anything for this classic. if you can read, read the book, yourself.
quite by chance i seem to have downloaded three readings that sport a uniform cover design, and this one turns out to be pretty much as i imagine joan didion to sound. there's always a certain pretentiousness to her writing, where you think, what's all this verbiage for? keaton understands what she's reading, she slips into the text, as if she's actually written all this stuff herself, and yet manages to make it sound charming, rather than alienate me the listener. this is good, it's great, you could even just play it as background noise, it'd still be pleasant to the ear.
i read "the painted bird" when it first appeared as a pocket book around 1966 or 67, and was pretty much bowled over by it. curiously, despite the much later appearance of books like "bloodlands" by timothy snyder, which described, in gory detail, the unbelievable bloodshed that took place in that area, the "bloodlands" comprised of poland and the ukraine -- i.e., the "unnamed eastern countries" of the painted bird -- i never took kosinski's book as autobiography --- i imagined it more as a story about a "collective" character, a composite character, made up of the fates of several people that kosinski may have known or whose stories he had heard. it was, i thought, a fictional, or factive, story like günter grass's "tin drum" (based on WWII) or grimmelshausen's "simplicissimus", a story about a character lost in the terrors of the 30-year-war, of 1618-48. but also the book struck me as being on a par with those two books, which are classics in their own right, very well written, memorable. the character in TPB, a picaro, jewish, as in the very first picaresque novel i'd come across, lazarillo of "lazarillo de tormes", a spanish classic from around the time of christopher columbus -- so too, the little lazar, the little jew, in this book, wanders from one scene of horror into the next, as did the character lasik in "the stormy life of lasik roitschwantz" (1960) by ilya ehrenburg. another great book in the picaresque tradition and i'm sure one that kosinski --- an author much accused of plagiarism -- must have been familiar with -- even long before it appeared in english in 1960. the english translation of ehrenburg's masterwork is pretty poor, BTW, especially when compared to the wonderful german -- and vaguely yiddish-sounding -- translation of 1929. the point here is that kosinski's book is not without antecedent, but it appeared in the english-speaking world like a comet, out of nowhere, and certainly impressed with its blinding light. i was pleased to hear the book rendered in this un-hurried, slightly foreign-accented reading -- which could, for all intents and purposes --- be a deliberate "act", part of the voice-actor's performance --- and so, what of it? it increases the sense of verisimilitude, it improves the reading. which is totally wonderful! and yes, the book holds up remarkably well. another thing that was always obvious to me -- all the more so, when i read that roman polanski and kosinski had been friends or acquaintances at the lodz film school in poland --- was that polanski should long ago have made a movie of this book. it hasn't happened so far and may now be unlikely to happen at all. polanski did make a movie of dickens's "oliver twist", which didn't really go much anywhere beyond the level of an "illustrated classic" comic book. someday somebody may have to make that movie yet, and the more time passes while we wait for it to appear, the more the stature of the book will grow as one-of-the great-classics-of-the-20th-century-that-has-never-been-filmed, much as "the catcher in the rye" hasn't. kosinski's other great book, which i found on audible in a very calm and unaffected reading by dustin hoffman -- none less! to be sure --- is "being there", which also exists as a great movie, starring peter sellers. it just antedates the reagan presidency by a few years --- if it had appeared any later it would have been thought of as a parody or political satire. even so, it serves that purpose well, seen from today's vantage point. to wrap up the point i want to make here --- this is a great reading of a great book, and deserves all the stars it can get. i would point the listener to the shorter and very different reading of "being there" next. hoffman's reading, in its subdued, matter-of-fact voice, does the book justice, as does the sellers film, one of the great movies of the 1980s. reading, hearing and seeing just these two books should allay anybody's doubts about kosinski's true stature in american literature. "the painted bird" is a classic, and this is an excellent reading of it.
this is the slightly abridged version, but appears pretty much complete. still, i felt a bit befuddled, as i started out listening to the story. who or what was it about? i realised it's a book from about a 150 years ago, but even so, the translation sounded a bit clumsy, unable to cope, in english, with the style and mannerisms of the author, things which must have seemed quite natural in the original. by chance i was listening to a complete german version of the same book, read by gert westphal, and it seemed to roll off the reader's tongue with a great deal more ease and facility. i downloaded a printed english translation -- a different one from the one used here -- which turned out to be older and much clumsier, but somehow showed a great deal more detail. still and all, it was difficult trying to read and listen to two separate versions of the book. in the end, having somehow found my way into the story, i just sat there listening, and i gradually accepted that this was all i was going to get.
my feeling now is that a much more modern and much more fluent translation needs to be obtained from somewhere, and possibly be entrusted to a younger and less magisterial reader, who should potentially be someone with a smidgen of actual knowledge of french -- which zee present readahr does not appear to be endowed with to any degree.
given that this is such a great book -- witness the westphal reading -- i think english language listeners deserve something equal if not superior, and this version is somewhat wide of the mark.
as the author notes, right at the beginning, this set of stories is loosely based on his own experiences in the british secret service during world war one. now maugham is a very readable author, even at his unreadable worst, by which i mean to say that it is entirely possible to be bored by him and even put to sleep by him, but he's never bad company. his short stories, some of which run to 40 pages or so, are almost never boring, even if they are pretty predictable. they were written for the common man or common hausfrau of the times, and so they are rarely risking giving you a mental blow-out. his best stories are the spy stories about the writer/agent "ashenden", which together form a terrific spy novel. it's easy to see how this book formed the template from which eric ambler and ian fleming would take their inspiration for their respective spies. well, on the other hand it must also be said that at the time when maugham wrote these stories both the readers and the author were pretty discreet about some matters, such as their homosexuality, whereas a modern reader can't help but notice that all these characters in the book are manifest closet gays. well, much the same could be said about the characters in thomas mann's novels and stories, but "ashenden"'s 40 pages at the sanatorium beat mann's 1000-or-so pages of the "magic mountain" hands down, so don't allow this observation to ruin the fun for you. this IS a terrific book, and the audio reader here does it justice, very nicely. of course at some later date you should try and read it yourself. as i was saying, maugham is always very pleasant company, and this is probably the best place to start getting acquainted with him.
a great book, originally published (in translation) in france, and with an ironic undertow, or overtone, that the present narrator basically ignores. annoyingly, you also get mispronunciations, like "cretin" (a moron) read as "Cretan" (a person from Crete), that make the AUTHOR appear as an illiterate, when it is basically the reader/presenter who is fraught with that problem.
thankfully, audible offers a complete set of chester himes's novels, all of which are great. i know, because i have read them. he is, without doubt, one of the classic masters of the american crime novel. but i feel that he is being presented here, so very nearly completely, largely because he was a black writer --- in other words, as an exercise in political correctness. why else would dashiell hammett, raymond chandler, james m.cain, and a slew of other classic crime writers be missing in audible so d+++ near completely?
having himes's very finely tuned novels read by such a masculine black voice identifies the novels as "black" but disallows for some of the literary characteristics to emerge, chief among them the author's humour and irony. chester himes may be writing stories set in a black milieu -- a very largely imaginary black milieu, originally created for the benefit of his french readers, since himes stood not a snow flake's chance in hell of having his books published in the US -- but when he writes novels in the mickey spillane mould, he does so almost tongue-in-cheek, exposing the injustices that "naturally" existed in a world divided into "black" and "white", back home.
bringing these stories "home" to america in translation, or perhaps in their original language -- since himes did not write them in french, they only appeared in french translation, and were not necessarily even intended to be published in english, ever, or certainly not at the time --- they needed perhaps a black voice that sounded a little less strident, a little less like some cop show presenter, but rather, a more wistful voice, like that of a reader who had just finished reading the uncle remus stories. then again, i'm not suggesting that chester himes should be turned into some kind of benign teller of fairy tales.
maybe a voice like eddie murphy's would have helped --- someone more sprightly, more willing to change his vocal range, or willing to giggle or in some other way suggest the different types of register found in this author.
BUT -- you can always try again, can't you? that's the beauty of audible, that different readers can offer different perspectives or alternative takes on the same book.
sorry, too much structure. my mother spent her teenage years in sweden, and knut hamsun became one of her favourite writers. when she had my older brother, as an illegitimate basket baby sired by a turkish officer but born in vienna in 1939 she named him knut. pronounced somewhat akin to "kanute", not as "nut" with a silent "k". i'd never read a book by hamsun so i thought it was about time i started on one. someone asked me had i read a book called ....something like "hangar" .... and i misheard it as "hunger" and said, no, but i was planning to, soon.
once i'd downloaded the book a couple of illnesses attached themselves to my heels like the hounds of hell, a viral infection akin to a flu and some other thing to do with my bladder and kidneys, like a sinus and cosine wave swinging together, and i was really badly ill for a couple of weeks and i could not even begin to listen to "hunger" without drifting straight off into algebra land.
what i liked about the cover illustration on this one was that you could count the knobs on the backbone of the guy in the picture. i used to look pretty much like that, myself, and i also knew what hunger was.
i listened to about five minutes of the reading before i ordered it, so i knew i was going to like the book. i'm still looking forward to actually hearing the whole thing, seeing as how i never managed to get into any hamsun ever before --- as a point of connection, too, with my mother who has long since passed to the other side.
am i imagining it to be a riotous laugh? something like "laughing gas" by wodehouse? not really. i can always go back to wodehouse, or kipling's "kim" or some other book. for the time being, this is the one i want to try and get my head around of, for whatever reason. or for whatever it is the reason that's there is trying to tell me.
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