The husband-and-wife team Prunella Scales and Timothy West are ideally suited to this collection of short stories. The first nine are read by Scales, the last (at 1'47" far the longest) by West.
The wit is characteristically black and, as the title suggests, melancholy -- if you enjoy Waugh's novels you will enjoy these short stories. If you have read, or mean to read, the wonderful "A Handful of Dust", then skip over the short story "The Man Who Liked Dickens", which becomes with very little alteration the last chapter of that novel.
This is the first-written and probably the best of the ten Hornblower books. Unlike many of the others, it is a continuous narrative rather than a sequence of episodic short stories.
For those interested in the British navy of the Napoleonic era, Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin books are the outstanding literary series. Forester does not have anything like O'Brian's complex picture of everyday life on board, or for that matter his sense of humour, but the Hornblower books are gripping page-turners, and their action sequences in particular are brilliant. The climactic single-ship action between the Lydia and the Natividad, described over several chapters, is terrifyingly vivid.
Christian Rodska gives an aptly gruff, boys-own-adventure sort of reading.
There's nothing much that Anton Lesser can't do -- from Hamlet to Homer, his performances are always superlative. So he's the ideal narrator for Dickens' best novel, the wide range of vivid characters drawing out all the actor's virtuosity. Three minutes in, the convict appears out of nowhere, the listener is gripped by the neck, and this eerie and enthralling story begins to unfold in lifelike colour.
It is hard to imagine a better cast for As You Like It. Helena Bonham Carter captures every shade of Rosalind -- pragmatic, playful, honest, and thoroughly in love -- and the teasing friendship with Natasha Little's Celia is thoroughly believable. The rest of the cast are just as good, I've not heard or seen a performance more sympathetically read.
The one disappointment is that the songs are poorly sung to poor settings, and jar terribly against the beautiful acting.
Timothy West reading Anthony Trollope is one of those perfect coincidences of author and narrator that seem too good to be true; in fact I have sometimes wondered whether strange necromancy might not have been at work and West actually is Trollope. Not a single inflection of the author's wry irony is missed, devestatingly honest, but charitably and affectionately too.
Barchester Towers is of course the most famous of the Barsetshire novels, but as it is really a sequel to The Warden, it is better to begin with the earlier novel. All six Chronicles of Barsetshire, as well as all the Palliser novels, are available in West's performances on Audible, and few audiobooks have given me so much enjoyment.
I only wish Prunella Scales recorded more audiobooks, as she is the ideal narrator for this sort of novel, flawlessly assuming every character, the author's above all.
The novel is unfortunately unfinished, though only a few pages were yet to be written at Gaskell's death, and she had foreshadowed how the story would end. It would be a shame to miss such a good book because the ending is cut short, but you need to be aware of this before beginning.
If you want to read Nicholas Nickleby, you'd much better stick to print, where the long-winded prose can be skimmed at will. As an audiobook it is a marathon. The novel abounds in bombastic moralism but lacks the wit and drama of Dickens' better works.
David Horovitch's performance is generally excellent, occasionally overplayed (in keeping with the spirit of the writing), but can't redeem the book.
The wonderful Juliet Stevenson can't be bettered as a narrator of Jane Austen. There is, of course, a lot of competition, but where Stevenson has recorded a book, she is always first choice.
The characterization is distinctive but not caricatured, the irony pointed but not laboured, and no nuance of the prose is overlooked.
As Emma is, in my opinion, the most delightful of Austen's novels, I can't recommend this audiobook too highly.
This recording does not work as an audiobook. It is taken from the soundtrack of the film, though with some strange edits. The text is substantially cut, reordered, new material is brought in from Henry VI and sometimes newly composed. While that may be justifiable for a film it certainly does not work here. There are also long passages of incidental music with no text, accompanying action on the screen, that are worse than useless for an audiobook. The acting is of course excellent but the sound quality fairly poor.
Frankly it is misleading to offer this as an audio recording of Richard III as the text is so mangled and it was never produced for audio purposes. Get the outstanding Naxos recording with Kenneth Branagh instead.
Unfortunately, these superlative performances are marred by dreadful sound quality. Some extended passages are literally inaudible, even while craning into the speaker with volume at full. There is a considerable hiss which masks a lot of the quieter speech.
There is really no excuse for this -- remastering to vastly clarify the sound is a relatively simple matter nowadays. Very disappointing.
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