The decline and fall is generally seen as a forbidding Everest that the intellectually ambitious must surpass in order to qualify for cultured status (rather like the Divine Commedy, of the History of Herodotus or the 6 Jane Austen novels). But although formidable (and not just in extension, but also in breadth of learning), this first volume of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is also a great story. Not only does it prove that the hereditary principle doesn't work as a way to run governmental affairs (from Augustus to Constantine there isn't even one example where acted wisely by leaving the empire to his son), it also shows that great architecture and art doesn't necessarily mean civilization as we understand it. Volume I also has the deservedly infamous chapters about the origins and spread of the Christian religion. Although they retain a power to offend believers, they are also very funny. This narration by Bernard Mayes (who is a former anglican priest, teacher and scholar, and quite a character in his own right- look him up in Wikipedia) is perfect. His perfect ennunciation and languid delivery are perfect for this work. I am looking forward to hearing the other 5 volumes.
The novel is good. The descriptions of the carnival and its characters are wonderfully atmospheric and the dialogue with Mr Dark is very well rendered. The notion of an evil carnival peopled by freaks whose physical defects emulate their moral failings, led by an immortal psychic vampire whose power is to give people their heart's desire is brilliant. Harmless objects like a mirror maze or a carousel corruscate with mystical darkness. Even the pleasurable smells of popcorn and cotton candy become ominous. The ending is not as good as the rest of the novel, but I've found this is a common feature of gothic horror novels. It's still a good read. Listening to it as narrated by Stefan Rudnicki improves the experience. His clear, slightly sardonic enunciation captures what in my mind would have been the author's preferred reading voice. I enjoyed it very much.
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