You can always expect elegant writing from Penelope Lively but I can't recommend this novel for any other reason. Both characters and their situation are so cliched as to make them unsympathetic and boring. This book did not keep my interest.
Although not as surprising and fun as the first book in the series, this book is still a romp through a supernaturalized Victorian England. Narrator Emily Gray never puts a word wrong.
If you like being told the same joke a dozen times and having the joke explained to you each time in case you didn't get it, then the book is entertaining. The first three-quarters of the book are filled with the kind of excruciatingly slow, repetitive dialogue that is the sign of an amateurish writer. Dramatic moments and interesting observations about books and history are completely obscured. The solution to the mystery is so obvious early on that only author manipulation, and not the normal course of fiction, prevents the characters from seeing what is right in front of them. The protagonist, Ned Henry, is a passive milksop of a character for most of the book, arousing my impatience rather than empathy. The writer may be trying to imitate the pace of a 19th century novel but fails miserably. Events may procede slowly in the works of Dickens and Trollope, but these writers are masters of tension, dialogue, and character who do not pad their stories with tedium.
The cat and the dog, however, never discuss events and events-to-be ad nauseum and always conduct their actions promptly and without undue explanation. They are the only ones.
This book is saved by the excellent performance of the reader and the final quarter in which questions are resolved and action takes place at a normal pace.
I agree with the other reviewers that after the "slough" start, the book pays off with absorbing action and characters. It's a thriller that avoids the shallow, formulaic hero and spunky/beautiful, etc. heroine. The characters themselves take as many unexpected but well grounded turns as the plot and one of the most repellent characters becomes the most admired. (He also has the best lines, making this book a good listen for the humor alone.) Even the parts that I didn't find believable did not detract from my enjoyment of the book as it progressed.
The narrator can make or break a book and Barrett's edgy reading was perfect.
An interesting and detailed history of forensic science written for the lay reader is ruined by the worst narrator I've heard in over twenty years of listening to books. I can tolerate mispronunciations or emphasis in the wrong place but I can't tolerate a voice that makes intelligent characters sound like California slacker idiots in a cartoon. When trying to deepen her voice, Marlo sounds like someone with a plugged nose and mental damage. Her attempts at French and German accented English are simply excruciating.
Give the author the respect her work deserves and read the hard copy!
Even Hope Davis's weak, nasal voice can't hurt this novel. (She's a fine actor but few actors are also fine readers.) Don't look for wild action, except for a few scenes. Patchett's fiction unfolds slowly but with a relentless tension. Characters are vividly drawn and the setting, especially in the Amazon, becomes a character in itself.
This book has several amusing moments but it's much too heavy-handed. Willis constantly beats the reader over the head with her "satire" of corporate insanity, trends, parenting, and work ethic (or lack thereof). I wanted to roll my eyes with impatience, just like some of the characters. The plot held few surprises. Definitely not Willis' best work.
What could be portrayed as a gripping story is flat both in the narration and the writing. The characters, supposedly the heart of this story, are portrayed at an uninspired distance and the reader sounds like a TV announcer from the 1960's.
The overwrought reading style is perfectly suited to this book, adding an archness that makes it even more amusing. It wasn't until I went looking for more information after the reading, however, that I found out there are two zombie novels written by two different authors. The only relationship this version has with the original Pride and Prejudice (italics) is that there are some of the same characters. Otherwise, it's a romp all its own. The other one, the "classic Regency romance," is the one that includes much of the original wording. It's unfortunate that Audible didn't make the distinction clear.
My expectations were low but I thought I could at least rely on Conroy's lush language. Not even that can salvage a book with such a collection of stereotyped characters and dialogue so bad that it reads like something I wrote in high school. If you're new to Conroy, listen to another of his books!
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