I listened to Charlton Griffin read an obscure translation of the Odyssey last year and came to love the poem after years of resistance. He excelled in that reading in conveying the voices of wily warriors and lowly peasants. Here he is reading a very different poet. He makes Ovid sound urbane, "cool," "hip." The poet wallowed in stories of emotional distress and extreme passion and deeds of bloods. Griffin tells these stories with relish. He doesn't create a vivid gallery of distinct characters the way Robert Whitfield did in his great reading of Don Quixote but he slip into Ovid's characters, men and women, in a quiet, smooth manner that doesn't call attention to itself, letting the hearer following along without any inconsistency of tone to jar him or her out of the story. If I got tired at times of the reading, it was because I listened to this long poem in a short time, instead of drawing it out and savoring it more. A fine performance.
Amber Benson narrates the second adventure of Quinn the vampire / werewolf of Providence with more confidence, a tight grip on her character's voice, a pleasing rhythm, and a slight monotony if one listens too long at a time. I would describe her Quinn voice as a combination of a cat's purr and a tiger's growl; perfect. She also does arrogant old demons and Gaelic trolls and obnoxious seagulls and snotty Goth girls well.
Two early poems of Shakespeare, based on love and lust from classical mythology.
The first is a stillborn May-December romance where the goddess Venus tries to seduce, then protect, a young boy she loves, failing at both. The goddess of love here comes across as a desperate cougar, oddly lacking in power, not so surprisingly lacking in sense. I'm not sure how I would have felt about the goddess if I had merely read her story. Instead I listened to Claire Corbett read her, and she gave her such heart that I could forgive her folly and tyranny and mourn her loss.
The second work was even darker, with Shakespeare probing the psyches of a rapist and his victim. The greatest dramatic psychologist had early shown an interest in extreme psychopathology with Richard III, but I found the power and depth that he showed here almost worthy of the tragedies he would write a decade later. Eve Best, a star on the London and Broadway stage, nearly brought tears to my eyes as the wronged heroine examined her options and decided on suicide.
While joy driving one night, Imp, a schizophrenic young woman, picks up another young woman, Eva Canning, who is standing stark naked alongside a river. This encounters shreds the poor girl's mind as she re-imagines her passenger as a siren and a werewolf until she is able to confront the truth.
Kiernan wrote the story in first person and this first person is not a disinterested observer or reliable narrator. Suzy Jackson thus has to give a performance more than a reading. She brings to life Kiernan's sad madwoman, a girl bright, curious, imaginative, quirky, usually frightened, eventually brave. She handles the inevitable psychotic-off-her-meds scene in a way that fills the listener, who by now should love the girl if he/she has a heart, with concern and dread. Gaiman made a good choice in Suzy.
This novel was perhaps the first to show adulterous lovers killing an inconvenient husband. As such, it was one of the first psychological thrillers and arguably one of the first noir novels.
To enjoy a psychological thriller, I have to believe the psychology and be thrilled by it. I had trouble doing either. I began reading / listening to this as a literary work, prepared to learn serious things about the human condition while admiring the author's literary skills. Since this was an English translation of a French novel, I didn't expect that much of whatever Zola's style was to survive. I was impressed by what did come through translation. I admired the author's eye for details and his ability to build characters, settings, and scenes out of them. He outdid himself in his description of the tomb-like shop where most of the action takes place. I could see it, smell it, feel it, fear it. I also admired his set pieces: the boring, maddening domino games; Laurent looking for his victim in the morgue; Laurent and Therese unable to consummate their marriage on their wedding night because of the corpse in the room; Therese begging forgiveness of the dead man's mute paralyzed mother, while said mother wished for her death.
At first, I couldn't find his psychological insights revealing because he revealed them in 1868 and since then talented writers such as James M. Cain, along with many, many hacks, have used them over and over again until they became commonplace. I became interested after the murder because Zola tried something that hasn't been imitated so much. He didn't make Laurent and Therese good people regretting an evil choice, as Dostoyevsky and Dreiser and Cain did, and he didn't make them the remorseless psychopaths that are featured in television crime documentaries. He made them bad people who were capable of regret and especially fear if not remorse or repentance. Unfortunately, Zola wrecked the novel's credibility by having the killers' crack-up caused by a shared hallucination, the presence of the murdered man's ghost, appearing as a corpse. As I mentioned, I enjoyed the ghost’s appearance as a set piece, as I enjoyed watching Zola put his villains though every kind of moral degradation he could think of, but I enjoyed it as I would a horror novel or a pulp thriller, not as a classic of world literature. When Zola ended their lives in a very melodramatic finale, I chuckled and shook my head instead of weeping.
Kate Winslet read this novel in the tone that I would have imagined Zola using: detached and disgusted. She brought the characters, male and female, to life in their short bursts of dialogue: angry, unhinged Therese; loud, brutish Laurent; the fools who played dominoes.
I love this novel, surely one of the greatest ever written. I was very happy to be able to hear an unabridged version, for I found a fresh treat in almost every chapter. For all that, I finished this in large part because of Robert Whitfield's narration. His tone as narrator was perfect. His handling of the characters was very much a performance, not a reading, His Don Quixote - a deluded old man determined to make his dreams come true - and Sancho Panza - a peasant hoping that his master is what he says he is even though he knows better - was as good or better than any film performance I've seen, Whitfield also excelled at creating a huge number of different voices, including excellent female voices.
Once again Wayne June makes the transformation of Lovecraft's characters from skeptic to broken - or inspired - believer sound plausible, his dry tone dampening Lovecraft's excesses while underlining his strengths. I especially like his handling of New England dialect.
Audible didn't mention who the translator was but when I input the first line into Google I found it linked to Augustus Taber Murray on Wikipedia.
I have been trying to find for years a version of the Odyssey that I liked as much as I do most translations of the Iliad. In this reading of an obscure translation, which I listened to while I was working, I finally found what I wanted. I love action and fantasy and I had always thought that was the best reason to read this work. This time, I was more impressed by the character of the heroes and their women: their code of honor, their hospitality and generosity, their adaptability to the decrees of fate or the operation of chance, their competitiveness, their cruelty to men, women, and children, their loyalties and betrayals. I've read that the Odyssey was the first great adventure story but I think one could say that it was the first psychological novel.
Charlton Griffin was terrific when he read the narration and the men's voices. I always imagined that Homer's warriors spoke like this. He wasn't at all convincing when doing the women's voices. I wish Audio Connoisseur had used a woman narrator.
Wayne June reads two of Lovecraft's best-executed stories in the tone of a staid man of common sense, say a business manager or a pedantic scholar, who has been brought unwillingly to believe in strange and terrible things. His approach underlines Lovecraft's strengths while covering his faults. An excellent afternoon's entertainment.
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