This is an outstanding title in the "Opera Explained" series, one free from a lot of extraneous detail and unneccessary introduction. We get right into the opera almost at once. And what an opera it is, containing as it does a political message, a paean to the joys of married love, and a score so demanding one wonders at the endurance of its performers. While the plot appears at first glance to be somewhat commonplace, it nonetheless shows the triumph of good over evil, justice over tyrrany, and hope over despair.
Furtwängler praised the opera, saying its political message and music "will always represent an appeal to conscience." But perhaps just as much, it is a monument to its composer's own statement: "Strength is the morality of the man who stands out from the rest, and it is mine."
Even if you're not a great fan of opera, if you love Beethoven, you're likely to enjoy this brief look at the incredible work he swore would win him "a martyr's crown" for his trouble. It is nothing less than a wonder to behold.
Frayn has written a novel that is pure joy for those of us who geek out on art history. For others, the long expositions may be information overload of the worst and most tedious kind! So if you suspect you won't enjoy so much of that, do skip this and find another. But if you love every delicious detail of art history, iconography, and painting, you're likely to have a great time with this one.
With his background in theatre, Frayn knows how to keep a scene moving and the dialogue snappy. His research is prodigious and I was impressed with his breadth of artistic knowledge. I was never bored and enjoyed both the serious art historical aspects and the elements of absurdity, comedy, and farce.
Steven Crossley is a great narrator, always pleasing to the ear, and perfectly suited to this title.
I love Susan HIll's writing. She has many gifts, but the one I most enjoy is her ability to create a haunting, suspense-filled atmosphere full of sensory detail. THE MAN IN THE PICTURE is a jewel of a ghost story in the tradition of M.R. James and I loved every minute of it. The narration was superb. You may never again regard a painting of masqued Venetian revelers without awe...
There are four reasons I believe this book is one of the worst I have ever read:
(1) The artist is the narrator of the book and he is tedious and aggravating. Part of this is because the entire book is a monologue filled with cant and cliche. Many of the trite phrases from the artist are little better than what one might hear during a drunken undergrad revel. Also, the unending opinions about Scotland and the Scottish people are ludicrous.
(2) Portrait painting is the passion of my life, so when I read a book that is ostensibly about a portrait painter, I expect the author to have done his research. Sadly, Pears does not seem to have any concept of what a working artist does. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but this book demands total suspension of intelligence.
(3) During all of the ranting and canting, the artist attempts to instill a sense of foreboding. Sadly we see what he's trying to pull from the beginning. There is no sense of suspense, only of failure to interest the reader in what happens next.
(4) Finally, we are supposed to believe that the sitter for this portrait is patient enough, and apparently stupid enough, to sit and listen to this garbage the whole time. Anyone with the character Pears attempts to give the sitter --- that of a strong-willed and powerful man with great intelligence --- would have walked out early on. But then Pears wouldn't have his captive audience to endure the painful contrivance.
I've never read anything else by Pears, so I cannot compare it to his popular series. I can only say that with this book as my only introduction to him, I have no reason to believe he would improve on further acquaintance.
This book might have been a riveting story, but it lacks essential editing and direction. Additionally, the research on Göring is slapdash and many errors made it through to publication, which is unfortunate.
I've read many biographies of Göring in English, German, and Swedish, and recently, Kersaudy's biography in French. These range from those written at the time of his ascendancy in Germany to those of recent days. Without a doubt, he is the most compelling figure in the Nazi regime and remains something of an enigma. In fact, the more I read, the more I want to know who the real Göring is. As this book says, he exists somewhere "between the admirable and the sinister."
I believe El-Hai sees Göring's relationship to his first wife incorrectly. This is important because of the profound effect she had on the direction of his life. Carin von Fock-Kantzow was not, as he says "a glamorous blonde singer," but the non-working wife of a Swedish Army captain. When Göring met her in 1920, he was an unsettled veteran pilot looking to make his way in the world. Her ambition for him was immense, and as many writers have said, she was as vehement a Nazi as ever there was. Even on her deathbed she pushed Göring to return to Germany because Hitler needed him. Without her ambition, support, and help, it is highly unlikely Göring would have been as successful as he was. El-Hai, on the other hand, glosses over the effect she had on his life, and as the only woman Göring ever allowed to influence him and his decision taking, that is a critical misunderstanding.
Furthermore, there is little if any mention of the profound personality changes that can and do take place after extended periods of opiate abuse. Megalomania is the most extreme result. If one takes an already over-confident, not to say conceited, personality such as
Göring had, the exacerbation of these tendencies shouldn't be glossed over.
The section on Nuremberg provides nothing new, and may be tedious to those who have read a great deal about it already. For those who haven't, it may be of some interest.
I could go on and on, but suffice to say, those familiar with Göring's life will find many errors and laborings under misapprehension. I believe all of these would have been put to right if deeper research had been done.
As for Kelley, I knew nothing of him. He is certainly an unforgettable, somewhat bizarre, character. However, El-Hai seems to be making a case that the way in which Kelley committed suicide was directly related to his interactions with Göring at Nuremberg. In my opinion, he fails to make his case. Psychiatrists do have an unusually high, and perhaps understandable, rate of suicide. I felt very sorry for Kelley's family and what they endured. Clearly Kelley was deeply troubled and it is tragic that he could not find the help he needed before it was too late.
Overall, I would not recommend this book. El-Hai can certainly write, but I think this book was rushed. If he took the time to deeply research his subject, I think his work could be stunning. On the other hand, three of us read it and we all disagreed about what we thought. So that means the work has some level of vitality. You decide for yourself.
In "Days Without Number," the Paleologus children gather for a birthday celebration for the eldest at the Cornish home of their rather beastly father. They have received a generous offer from a wealthy man who is ostensibly interested in the father's house for archaeological and historical reasons. The gathering ends badly, with the father's refusal of the offer, as well as his usual voicing of complaints about how each of his children has disappointed him. The next day, he is found dead, apparently of an accident. But was it an accident? That, and many more mysteries, are at the heart of this compelling story.
Gordon Griffin is a new narrator for me, but an intriguing one. He really brought this story to life and gave distinct voices to each character. I'd love to listen to something else from him.
Having just finished Goddard's "Painting the Darkness," performed by the incomparable Michael Kitchen, I wanted to leave a review but found that the title is "unavailable." I highly recommend it also. In it Goddard shows himself to be a brilliant master in complete control of his medium. It has been interesting to see how his already excellent writing has been refined and perfected. He just gets better and better. Long may he write.
I enjoyed both volumes of THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN. David Timson is always an amazing narrator, but here he surpasses himself as he renders innocents and villains with equal aplomb. Father Brown himself is unique and unforgettable, as are many of the ancillary characters, and the settings are varied and delightfully rendered. I recommend the two volumes to those who love a good short story collection, classic mysteries, or just long for a little trip back into a world forever lost to us. Enjoy them.
One hundred years ago this July, events began to unfold which would change the world forever. This book examines of some of the factors which led up to them as they relate to three of Queen Victoria's grandchildren.
Miranda Carter is outstanding and her book is likely to appeal to many. It is not that there is anything particularly new here in the way of information, but that she tells the story beautifully and with great attention to detail, which makes the book a welcome addition.
Those who have an interest in the era or enjoy biographies will love the detail and careful rendering of setting and time period. Characterization is skillful, descriptions apt, and the story unfolds with perfect timing and holds one's interest to the final pages as we witness the vicissitudes of royal lives.
For those with an interest in the foundations of World War I, the view from the monarchies, as it were, is of great importance. Without hesitation, I recommend it to anyone who shares my obsession with the Great War, or who would like to understand its foundations better.
I read the book long ago but returned for a re-listen this week. I think I liked it even more the second time around.
Rosalyn Landor was, as ever, superb. What a lovely voice that actress has!
This review is personal and not as objective as I like my writing to be under normal circumstances. I've watched as several friends and family members attempt to follow positive thinking philosophies, both New Age and Judeo-Christian. Invariably, the attempt has come to a bad end.
Barbara Ehrenreich learned how pervasive the belief in positive thinking is, and just what this may mean to you when you're in crisis, through her experience with cancer treatment. While she didn't hold with positive thinking, but rather had it thrust upon her, others who do believe in positive thinking have had no less shocking encounters with its pervasive influence and the limits of its belief system.
My closest friend was deeply involved in a New Age group whose main tenet was of the positive thinking "You create your own reality" variety. When her young son was killed in a car accident, she was told a number of things. "He manifested his death," and "You chose this experience for your growth." I watched in horror as her group of "friends" and fellow believers responded with coldness and trite phrases, indeed anything but support or understanding.
Another friend allowed her terminal illness to grow worse without treatment because she believed she brought it on herself with her "negative thinking." Still another followed "The Secret" religiously, only to find herself less productive and deeper than ever in debt. It has been heartbreaking to watch and left me with much anger.
Sadly, the positive thinking mindset is difficult to penetrate with logic. As when you deny a tenet of Freudianism and you are told, "You are in denial," in positive thinking philosophies, you may be told, "It's not working because you don't believe in it," or some other variation, such as "You don't have enough faith." Whatever the case, it's your fault and you may be ostracized for your questioning and disbelief.
Why people "wishful think" there is an easy way through life is difficult to understand, but Ehrenreich's work is a meaningful contribution toward deeper understanding. The fact is, your body may very well "betray you" despite your care of it, death is certain, and before any of that happens, hard work is required to achieve anything worthwhile in this world. For some reason, no one wants to hear that.
The narrator was extremely annoying and sounded condescending. Rarely do I think an author should read her own work, but this is an exception. Had I not been pressed for time, I would have returned this and read it on a Kindle.
If you enjoy this book, I'd also highly recommend another take on the subject, Oliver Burkeman's "The Antidote."
Those who are familiar with E.F. Benson only through his "Mapp and Lucia" series may not realize he wrote just short of five dozen supernatural stories, of which we have thirteen here.
Benson's world is very much like that of Saki. One gets the impression that, before the Great War at least, the most dreadful thing that befell these gentlemen was finding the contents of a soda siphon empty and no servant at hand to attend the disaster. It is not a world in which ghosts and spectral horrors figure prominently. But they do here, and this is what you can expect:
(1) An artist makes a summer visit to an old friend with whom he used to share a studio. Stunned by the friend's youthful appearance and serenity, he attempts to understand the way he lives in THE MAN WHO WENT TOO FAR.
(2) On holiday in the Engadine, an English gentleman hears the local legend of a mountain known as THE HORROR-HORN and has an experience which might put him off winter sports.
(3) During another winter visit to Switzerland, we meet a psychic waiter who may hold the key to the mystery of THE OTHER BED.
(4) GAVON'S EVE finds us heading north into Sutherlandshire toward Gavon Loch, Pictish ruins, and hauntings.
(5) THE ROOM IN THE TOWER is a story of a nightmare come true. For many years, the narrator dreamed of being shown to a room in a tower "where horror dwelt." This story of a malevolent self-portrait shows Benson at his best.
(6) When travel tales were very much in fashion, and the world not quite so small, a story like ALI ABDUL'S GRAVE and its description of black magic in Luxor might have been more exotic than it seems today.
(7) HOW FEAR DEPARTED FROM THE LONG GALLERY is a classic English ghost story which takes place in the stately residence of Church-Peveril.
(8) THE SHOOTINGS OF ACHNALEISH is another story of Sutherlandshire and, this time, of its hares.
(9) THE DUST-CLOUD is a true period piece that will interest those who are fascinated by the "machines" of the early days of "motoring."
(10) THE CONFESSION OF CHARLES LINKWORTH centers on a man condemned to death.
(11) Reading the Villa Cascana had recently been pulled down causes our narrator to reflect on events which he remembers with a special kind of horror in CATERPILLARS.
(12) AT THE FARMHOUSE finds a man desperate to rid himself of his wife.
(13) The narrator's friend Hugh tells him of a strange hallucination in THE BUS CONDUCTOR.
Sadly, with a few exceptions, these are not Benson's best stories. There is an unfortunate tendency that Benson had to tie up every loose end, as if to explain things neatly away. So as ghost stories, some of these fall flat. But as period pieces of a vanished world, they are charming and quaint.
I hope Mr. Wagland will bring us the rest of Benson's stories, including "Mrs. Amworth," "Naboth's Vineyard," and others which are scarier. He has a pleasant, calm British voice well-suited to classic stories and I enjoy him very much.
What a bargain this collection is. It contains a couple of Conrad's often anthologized short stories, but also includes some wonderful ones which are only infrequently recorded. Greg Wagland's performance is admirable. If you're an old fan of Conrad or a new reader, this little selection has much to recommend it.
YOUTH finds Marlow yarning again, this time about his youth, when he was on a ship called "The Judea." In age, we find our "weary eyes looking still, looking always, looking anxiously for something out of life, something that while it is expected is already gone" until we have lost the last of our illusions.
KARAIN: A MEMORY is often called Conrad's "attempted ghost story," but as ever, the story is far more than its surface appearance. Ambiguous, haunting, and not quite resolved at its finish, KARAIN is, for me, as full of memorable phrases as is HEART OF DARKNESS and almost as interesting.
As with the other stories here, there is much regret, loss, and sadness. At one point, Conrad speaks of "...all the exiled and charming shades of loved women; all the beautiful and tender ghosts of ideals, remembered, forgotten, cherished, execrated; all the cast out and reproachful ghosts of friends admired, trusted, traduced, betrayed, left dead by the way..."
AN OUTPOST OF PROGRESS is a must-read: Conrad considered this his finest story. It is the story of two ivory traders, Kayerts and Carlier, and what happens to them in their isolation and power struggles.
THE LAGOON is another tale in which illusions are laid waste. Unpredictability reigns and what one believes is secure vanishes before one's eyes. "There is no light and no peace in the world, but only death for the many."
AMY FOSTER is another of his deceptively simple tales. An emigrant sailing from Hamburg is shipwrecked off the coast of England. He settles with those who rescued him and eventually marries a servant girl, Amy Foster. The story and its tragic ending address familiar Conrad themes, most especially that of the stranger in a strange land, and the meaning of home.
THE ANARCHIST is the final tale, and possibly the least interesting, though you may disagree.
The late Josephine Hart opened her first novel: "There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul. We search for its outlines all our lives." The reason I return to Conrad again and again is that he attempted to chart this landscape. He is politically incorrect, and a bit of an old curmudgeon, but I love him. He looked at the human condition without flinching and told the truth of his life. I couldn't ask more of any writer.
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