"The Master" is one of the best novels I've ever listened to. Having read the reviews, I was hesitant to hear (rather than read) the book. It is a perfect audiobook though, with an easy pace and a talented reader. Toibin's grasp of the creative mind, of the historical era and manners, and of the insights of an expat New Englander are spot on. It's not a juicy tell-all faux-bio for fans of Kitty Kelley's style, but an empathetic imagining of "being Henry James." Reasonable speculation is made based on family acquaintances and events of the time. The language is rich yet restrained to befit the subject. Characterization is subtle, bolstered by the author's tremendous insight and sympathy. The reader feels suspended in time, taken to a place where James's painstakingly private life can be observed without intruding on decorum. Elegant and worthwhile if you love literary fiction and the life of the mind.
The story is labyrinthine, lots of characters over a long period of time, each with his or her own eccentricities. While some of the subject matter is very politically incorrect today, it is an interesting chronicle of social and economic changes at the end of the Victorian and beginning of the Edwardian eras. The transition from a largely rural, farming country to a more urban investment-based middle-class also drives the early story, complete with successful Forsytes buying country homes later.
The book reminded me a bit of "Middlemarch," with its gentry versus people of commerce themes and its focus on marital strife. There were also elements that echoed some of Trollope's themes (especially his Barsetshire Chronicles and Paliser novels) regarding proper behavior and the role of money in a changing society.
The narrator seems really dull at first, almost mechanical and droning, but after a while, his subtle intonation really underscores Galsworthy's droll characterizations and wicked satirical wit.
Sorry, but this is just not his best. Must've bought this one on sale after having listened (or read in print) some of his others. Let's say it was his first, and therefore he was young and inexperienced (and randy), but WAY too much focus on the physical and not enough on the plot. His other (Gabriel Allon) books are much more developed and better written. Not much to recommend this one: if you like WWII there are much better books, and if you like Daniel Silva, well, that TOO.
I, too, started with "A Distant Mirror," which I've read in print twice (20 years apart), and I've always liked Tuchman's ability to use a few singular characters to illustrate the broad strokes of an era. Having listened to several Henry James, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, et al, novels recently, I realized I didn't really have a comprehensive view of late 19th century/pre-WWI political and social history, and I was pleased to find Tuchman had written about the era. Like Simon Winchester, she uses gem-quality details to bring both place and time to life.
I enjoyed the narration very much, but this is clearly a very subjective matter. I have listened to several books (coincidentally) narrated by May, and I really like her tone, her accent(s), her voicings, and her pace. I learned early on in my Audible membership to listen to a sample before downloading, and I am still grateful for classics that offer several narrator options.
This is an excellent recording that rectifies most of the negatives in the reviews of the other options. It's a great introduction to Dante that will either satisfy your curiosity about "The Divine Comedy" or lead you to more in-depth study afterward.
Having sought a good recording of "The Divine Comedy" for some time, this recent release was welcome. Much of what one likes or dislikes about recordings of classic verse depends on the translation, the narrator, and other variables. This one worked well for me in that I enjoy the narrator (and have bought other recordings because I like his voice), that it is unabridged, and that the translation is pleasing to listen to (although it is prose and does not mimic the original's terza rima).
Each cantica is preceded by an author's note about its structure; each canto has a brief narrative overview. This makes it an excellent choice for first-time readers and/or people who want to read it without devoting a great deal of study to the process. That said, many people would say that "The Divine Comedy" requires a great deal of study,and that a footnoted, print edition is requisite. (I think not, depending upon one's interest, but some of the structure notes -- and biographical references -- would be more accessible in print.) It is perfectly listenable and one need not take a course to grasp the main points and see how it influenced later literature.
My only complaint -- and this is because I listen to several classics over and over -- is that there is no convenient way to listen to it from start to finish without the cantica and canto introductions. After one understands the processions, listening to just the verse would be a nice option.
I have to agree with both the people who enjoyed this book AND those who noticed that all was not as it seemed. Sadly, if you check the print version of the book, you will note that it was published in 1974. Alas, the good intentions! Every country in Africa should be a first-world econonmic power by now, should you cling to the narrator's zeal for power plants and democracy.
It IS a great listen, though, as long as you are well-informed and have kept up with world history SINCE the Nixon administration. Otherwise, you will be world-class confused.
And maybe this is damning with faint praise, but I thought this was a good book, not a great book. I would offer five stars only to a classic, and I think "Middlesex" unlikely to become one. The scope of the book was amazing, the characters well developed, and the story lines neatly tied up. It is a very handsome package, but not exactly a great gift.
For a book of its length, the listener should love the narrator. I found this one good at interpreting the characters and giving them distinctive voices, but occasionally over-the-top in his delivery -- sometimes even grating. I felt in some chapters that I was being harrangued -- not led -- through the narrative.
Still it is a gratifying glimpse into several subcultures and multiple time periods. It is well worth listening to, but hard to compare to Virginia Woolf's "Orlando" (as many do) except in the most literal aspects of the main character's sexuality. Whether this is literary fiction or just good best seller writing, I do not know.
Both Volume 1 and 2 make for interesting listening, but I agree with the other reviewers that the book's original publication date of 1958 should have been disclosed. In addition to the antiquated notions on the origins of Polynesian culture, the book's near-giddy tone about the "modernization" of Africa rings particularly bizarre after decades of AIDS and the ravages of ethnic cleansing. I thought the narration, aside from the malaprops, was quite tolerable (if a little chuffy). The chronological skipping around sometimes caught me off guard, but overall, I enjoyed both volumes.
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