I couldn't get any of my friends or relatives to read this with me, and they were all wrong to avoid it--it is a sensitive and gentle rendering of certain segments of James' life, easy to follow in this recorded form, and not reminiscent of those tangled James short stories you never finished in college. Toibin keeps it believable and doesn't charge in and detail torrid love affairs (of any orientation). Unlike other novels 'from a life' this didn't make me worry whether Toibin had guessed correctly at the deepest secrets of James' personal life. It's a great portrait with a nice "nuanced" narration that suits the material very well.
I listened to the first hour of this abridgement and then compared it to the text, and concluded that I would be better off re-reading the enormous novel instead (for my book club).
While the abridgement seemed like a decent effort to capture the highlights, and the narration was pleasant, the incredible artistry of this novel's language is largely lost in the process of shortening the lengthy descriptions. You also miss out on the sense of being enveloped in the characters' lives and thoughts. (I think a screenplay writer would have the same problem...I'd rather see it done as a ten hour miniseries.)
I read an old paperback of this book a few years ago, and am so pleased to see it here where it will hopefully be rediscovered. The best aspects are its unusual geographic setting and the dreamlike/nightmarish quality taken on by the protagonist's little sailing trip. I hope the recording is good because the story deserves a larger audience (not to mention a film deal).
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