I won't say much about Nadia May here; she is reliably fine with every aspect of her reading, as she always is.
But the book is rather odd, even for Muriel Spark, who usually has more than a touch of the odd in her stories and characters. Right through to the end, I could not be certain about the nature of Fleur Talbot, the narrator and protagonist. She is, of course, a novelist, a professional liar, so we should be suspicious of her from the start. But I could never quite decide if she's just a little self-aggrandizing or completely unreliable in giving us the connections between her novel, Warrender Chase, and the novel (or, within the fictive universe, memoir) she is recounting.
It's possible, I suppose, that (SPOILER ALERT) Sir Quentin is just crazy enough to pattern his fate after that of Talbot's Chase, but only a slight adjustment of the dates (and the book was not published until some months after Sir Quentin's odd death) would be required for the novel to have been patterned after, or revised into the pattern of, the events of Talbot's life.
And, of course, we have no information other than what Fleur gives us, and that includes a good deal aout how everyone (or nearly everyone) around her is lying and manipulating the facts to make themselves look good, or make Fleur look bad.
It is, as the bard says, a puzzlement. But it is also great fun, as Spak always is, and well worth the listen.
I'm not really a big fan of mysteries, but there are a few authors I'll read: Kate Wilhelm for the characters, Ellis Peters for the backgrounds, Tony Hillerman for the textures of Navajo life. Now I can add Benjamin Black to the list. Unsurprisingly (in his other identity of John Banville, he is a Booker Prize-winning literary novelist), Black writes fine novels that happen also to be mysteries.
Some level of mystery is an element of most literary novels. How will the protagonist resolve this problem? But Quirk, Black's hero in this series, is a pathologist, the man who does the post-mortem on patients and on his own sins, as he sees it. He is, in fact, no more a sinner than the rest of us, but being an Irish Catholic in the 1950's, he feels it more strongly. And it is his character that keeps us enthralled from book to book.
The mystery here is more than sufficiently complex, but it is used as a vehicle for a portrait of a world, of the power elite of a place and time that was no more or less corrupt than any other. Even the villains are human, and get to speak for themselves.
Actually, Timothy Dalton speaks for them, and there are few readers who are better than he. Don't think of him as James Bond, but as, say, the young king of France in The Lion in Winter, and you'll get an idea of just how fine an edge he brings to these books.
I suppose there may be bad performances of Wodehouse's books, but I haven't run across any of them. And the late, great Frederick Davidson was one of his best interpreters. This book, made into arguably the most bizarre of all Wodehouse films (it features Fred Astaire, George Burns, and Gracie Allen), has the same basic story as most of them: boy meets girl, falls in love, and faces silly obstacles. But it isn't the destination, it's the journey, and this one is a ride like Space Mountain.
Granted, Zuckerman is in the background of this novel, the narrator who puts together the complex story of Coleman Silk, distinguished professor at a small liberal arts college in New England. But the Zuckerman books are all about identity and assimilation, and Silk has concealed his identity so well and for so long that he is ultimately the victim of his own success. And really, who would suspect anyone of passing for Jewish in a culture (American in the Fifties) where Jews were not much liked? But Roth faces up to a different American racism in this novel than in some of the other Zuckerman books, to look at the cost of escaping it.
The first time I tried to listen to this, I just couldn't do it. But I had been told it was a classic, so I gave it another shot, and this time I picked up on the irony -- that Becky Sharp, the one everyone pities and scorns, is really the finest person in the story -- and that is the quality that makes it a classic. The reading is good and unobtrusive, letting this "novel without a hero" make its acute social observations through Thackeray's opinionated narration.
One of the great pleasures of Jane Austen is how she uses her cool, cultured tone to set up the little digs she takes at her characters. Flo Gibson catches that slight air of detachment. And, of course, it's Mansfield Park -- maybe not Jane's best (I'm sure there are arguments about that), but still Jane, and any Jane is better than almost everyone else.
I think the previous reviewer may have been confused by the fact that the recording, not the story, ends unexpectedly. The printed book has a lot more to the story than the abrupt ending in the file I downloaded.
If you like Wodehouse, you'll like this. If you don't like Wodehouse, you won't. If you've never read Wodehouse, this is a pretty decent introduction.
Two of his regular characters -- the earls of Ickenham (Uncle Fred) and Emsworth -- come together in various interlocking plot lines that involve (of course) attempts to purloin a pig, to get money out of tightfisted relatives, and to overcome the obstacles to true love. It's fluff, but brilliant fluff, and the reading, while not my favorite Wodehouse reader (Frederick Davidson or Ian Carmichael), is quite fine.
George Orwell seems to be best known now for two of his novels, but most of what he wrote and published was non-fiction. We don't have Homage to Catalonia (his memoir of the Spanish Civil War) available, but we can hear this superb reading of his interpretation of his experience with poverty. It is unapologetic and unromanticized, detailing the Depression-era strategies that he, and so many others, used to survive hard times. In Paris he takes a menial and degrading job as a plongeur (pot-washer) in a restaurant; returning home to Britain to take an editorial job, he must fill in the month before the job starts by going on the bum, hiking from one shelter to the next, kept on the move by restrictive regulations. Orwell's prose is always a treasure (connoisseurs will already know his essay, "Politics and the English Language"), and Patrick Tull may be the perfect reader of Orwell, understanding the music and the meaning of the text.
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