Moss Beach, CA, United States | Member Since 2008
This is a very fine book, a sort of Mr. Chips goes to Hell, or to the Fun House. Fascinating characters, each distinct, each interacting with the others. The book is told from two perspectives, one narrated by a young person, the other old. The only problem I had was that at first I assumed the youthful narrator was a flashback and that the narrators were one-and-the-same person, which is not the case. There would have been no confusion if that had been understood from the beginning. Nonetheless, this book takes a twist on manners, appearances and the clever machinations of a diabolical mind. Very fine writing.
In a blending of Forest Gump meets Baron Munchausen meets Lao Tzu, mild mannered and apolitical Allan Karlsson manages to have an impact on his times, even if no one knows his name. Whether having exceptionally bad luck and hardship, or experiencing the most providential escapes, through it all he accepts whatever comes his way because, as his father pointed out, "whatever will be will be." Fatalistic acceptance forms the core of his character as he goes from one adventure to the next through a very long and very eventful life. Loads of fun.
This series is notable for its gentle tone, its sympathetic characters, the methodical unraveling of the core mystery, and topical themes. Earlier novels in the series have addressed xenophobia, illegal immigration, human trafficking, genetically modified crops, real estate development, truffle fraud, fois gras, PETA and the ETA. Resistance Man incorporates themes of prejudice against homosexuals, abortion, the longing for family and government corruption. And as always, there are the ever present family feuds, politics, testing of loyalties, and the struggle to reconcile legal, pragmatic and moral solutions. The only frustration is that we'll have to wait another year for the next installment.
This is one of my favorite books of the past year (out of about 60). The concept is intriguing, and the protagonist becomes more compelling with each iteration. The minor characters also acquire more depth as they resurface throughout the stories. The narrator could not have been better. And the ending is tremendously satisfying. This is not a book I'll soon forget.
First, I should say I’ve read most of Maeve Binchy’s books and am a big fan. However, this volume, published after her death, might better be considered an unfinished work. It’s a collection of 36 stories, only loosely connected by the street on which some of the characters live (in some cases it’s a tangential connection). Most of the stories end rather abruptly, and knowing Binchy’s previous work, I expect she would have connected some of the stories and characters, and possibly have fleshed out some of the characters and expanded some stories had she lived to help in the editing process.
Certainly she would have brought some element into the book to redeem the otherwise gloomy outlook. Of the 36 stories, there are but three that might be considered optimistic. These are all character studies of mostly sad, wronged women who work hard and are continually disappointed in their relationships with parents, siblings, friends, and especially men. The men, in all but four of these stories, are drunks, gamblers, philanderers, drug dealers, unethical businessmen, workaholics, neglectful and cheating husbands and boyfriends, and absent fathers.
The narrator has a pleasant Irish accent, but she also has a lisp that is sometimes distracting, and there is no attempt made at differentiating characters through voice; so they all sound exactly alike.
I've read or listened to all of Alexander McCall Smith's adult books, and this one stands apart in its repetition and lack of humor. In tone it reminds me of Scott Spencer's Endless Love, or the novels of Anne Tyler. We suffer the protagonist's obsession for hours, only to be handed a shockingly abrupt ending. The scene we eagerly anticipated throughout the book finally arrives, we wait to see what the main character will say and do, and suddenly a curtain is drawn over that pivotal, life changing moment, and we find ourselves on a beach, with the protagonist and her mother, engaged in a banal conversation that adds nothing to the story. How disappointing!
Nonetheless, along the way we're treated to a few of McCall Smith's philosophical asides, insights into human character, and the nature of romantic love. And Susan Lyons does a wonderful job of narration, handling a number of English accents with subtlety and grace.
I thought this would be a pleasant Young Adult novel (aka, light literature). Instead, ten minutes into it I was hooked and spent the rest of the day listening to the end. Yes, I agree that the narrator could have done a better job of differentiating the two main characters, but the story was well-paced and compelling. Tracey Garvis Graves excels at the subtleties of relationships, and has an unusual understanding of teenage boys. Entirely satisfying.
Elle Lothlorien takes a tired genre and gives it a shot of energy with her wry sense of humor and impeccable pacing. I read the ebook first, and enjoyed it, but the heroine's voice in my head didn't match the manic delivery of Leah Frederick. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the audio version just as much, as Frederick gave it her own unique spin.
Mark Meadows is amazing, voicing more than a dozen characters so distinctly that it was like listening to an ensemble cast. His accents run the gamut from Scottish, to Irish, the various regional and class distinctions of England, Maori, Australian, Chinese, men and women, young and old. I only kept listening because of the narrator.
The book is Dickensian in scope and 19th Century in narrative style, which befits the subject, but it needed a good editor. The writing is very good, but the story jumps around in time to no purpose, and is numbingly repetitive. The last quarter of the book does little more than show in action what we already know from hearsay and narration, and leaves a few loose ends that would have given a more satisfying resolution.
Excuse the cliché, but Joe Hill didn't fall far from the proverbial tree. He writes action scenes that are so like his father's that you can barely tell the difference. His characters are also finely drawn, with believable foibles and failings. The pacing was excellent, especially given that he had to pause to show how Vic McQueen grew from "The Brat" of the first part, into the troubled adult of the second part. It was also refreshing to find "morbidly obese" Lou Carmody cast in the role of a fully realized, sympathetic hero. Of course all of that could easily have been ruined by a mediocre reading, but Kate Mulgrew is outstanding, giving each character an individual voice, as well as increasing the pace and urgency in her voice when the text called for it. If you're looking for horror, you can't do much better than this.
If you're looking for action, look elsewhere. If you're looking for a character study and a philosophical exploration of the characters' Parisian world, look no further. The writing is, at times, poetic, and always self-assured. If you like Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series, or the Isabel Dalhousie series, you'll like The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The dramas are internal, small and mundane, but no less interesting for all their familiarity. The philosophical musings are sometimes so intricate that I had to rewind to listen a second time, and indeed I think this is a book that may be a better read than a listen. Nonetheless, Barbara Rosenblat's husky voice was perfect for 54-year-old Renee, and Cassandra Morris does a respectable job as 12-year-old Paloma.
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