I am an Anglophile of long standing, but it took me a while -- most of Part 1 -- to warm up to the Duchess and her story. Her tales of childhood painted scenes of privilege that I found off-putting, with little to endear the writer or her very young self to me. Once the narrator got older -- just on the brink of WWII and then into the war -- she became more of a real person, not only because she matured, but because she finally began to see hardship and sorrow, and to experience them, herself. Clearly, once Deborah Mitford had real responsibilities (raising children and running Chatsworth), she rose to them. Flosnik's reading is just fine, except when she attempts an American accent. In general, why bother if you can't do it well? In particular, Flosnik attempts the Kennedy version of the American accent when reading from letters to Mitford written by Jack and Bobby. It's appalling.
As I noted in the title, Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel. Anne Elliott is a believable, normal character whose concerns and frustrations don't seem dated in the least, even when they are shaped by outdated (I hope) notions of what it means to be a woman.
I had wanted to read this book since it was first published, and I'm so glad I was able to get it as an audiobook. I learned SO MUCH about U.S. history and 18th-century Western societies. Gordon-Reed does so well at contextualizing the people about whom she writes, their actions, and their expectations, that I felt I had a very reliable conduit to the time in which the Hemings family lived and worked and was enslaved at Monticello. I'm impressed that she creates such a lively narrative without, as far as I can tell, embellishing or creating dialogue.
Listening to the whole work is a commitment. I stretched my listening over several months, but never lost the thread of the story. This is probably because of the many repetitions of the same concepts throughout the book, but, as Lenin said, "povtorenie -- mat' ucheniia" -- repetition is the mother of learning. I certainly found these repetitions more helpful than annoying.
I avoided this series and both films for quite some time because I generally don't like extremely suspenseful and/or violent stories, but finally saw the second version of the film. I enjoyed the film a lot, and so decided to listen to the book. No surprise, of course, to find much more detail and a few unsuspected plot twists in the original. I actually found myself going to the gym more frequently just so I could listen to the next segment of the book! Overall, I found the extensive detail about how various things worked/happened to be quite interesting, and even though I knew the basic plot from the film, the narrative kept me engaged.
I wasn't crazy about the narrator's voicing of the female characters -- too much breathy little-girlishness in all of them. I suppose I can see where this kind of sound makes sense for Salander, but it just didn't work for me. It bothered me enough that I never quite stopped noticing it, but not enough to make me refrain from listening to the rest of the trilogy.
I thought the ending, especially Chapter 18, was the best part of the book. The middle chapters dragged quite a lot, in my opinion, but the discussion of fish-cutting at Le Bernardin was beautifully detailed and mesmerizing. Totally worth the price of the book. I generally love Bourdain's opinionated approach to, well, everything, but some of the early chapters and much of the middle was just rehashing points he makes elsewhere. I almost gave up on this book about 2/3 of the way through. I'm so glad I didn't, because then I would have missed my beloved Chapter 18, but it was tough going for a while.
This is my first audio book, so I don't have a lot of context in which to judge, but I enjoyed every second of it. I already knew the story, and was impressed with Prunella Scales's voicing of the characters. Unlike a reviewer below, I didn't find her narration "flat;" I don't want the reader's voice to overwhelm the text. I think I'm going to purchase more of Mrs. Gaskell, as read by Scales.
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