South Australia, Australia | Member Since 2010
I am a fan of Ian McEwan's works, but you wouldn't know that from the title to this review. I loved Amsterdam and Atonement, of course. However, I regret to write that title is unfortunately accurate.
I have been resisting the steadily increasing number of my friends who also liked Atonement, but who are now complaining about the quality of recent works (Saturday and Solar, for example). To them, I have staunchly defended McEwan's wit, intelligence and style. Alas, I can't manage that defence for Sweet Tooth.
Having said that, this is not a "bad" book; it's just not up to McEwan standard. The language is still good and his trademark character introspection is still there. However, the story is just plain bland. I disagree with those reviews that thought the "twist" was surprising. McEwan tried to give it away in the second Chapter and, by mid way through the book when he extemporises the evil of an unscrupulous ending, it is plain that is not what was going to happen here. By Chapter 19 (of 22) the "twist" was so obvious I could barely be bothered to listen to the last two Chapters. For all that, I won't give the ending away, except to say that the publishers' blurb is all you need to know about the plot. Those who care to listen can judge for themselves.
As for the lovely Juliet Stevenson, she gives a wasted, but accomplished performance, as one would expect. The truth is that I was reluctant to pick up this book because of the last few from McEwan, but the narrator's credentials convinced me otherwise. She at least, was not a disappointment.
A fair review would give this 2.5 stars overall, but because I can't do that, I've rounded it up, for old times sake.
At last I am up to date with the author's Langdon catalogue, but I can't honestly say that I feel any the better for it. Again the story conforms to the stereotypes for this genre (see the second paragraph of my review of "The Symbol", which could be cut and pasted here without losing any of its accuracy, save that there is no Masonic element in this plot). However, for some reason I just couldn't buy into the story this time and so I found it less entertaining. On reflection this might be because I am a Dante fan and know the Divine Comedy in more than passing, or because I am a regular visitor to Florence and know its attractions well. So, just maybe, my familiarity has bred, not contempt, but perhaps indifference. In any event, the revelations were not as startling to me as, say, "the Symbol's" and, although it is still a good yarn, it did not have that element of, "What? Really!" about it. Sure I still checked out the tour sites on the internet (there are several), but more for refreshing a memory than to look upon it for the first time. Most of the internet travel related to the third city of the plot, Istanbul (Venice is the second city, after Florence).
Paul Michael did another good job with the narration, particularly with the accents.
If you are not familiar with Dante, Florence or Venice you will probably find this more interesting than I did. That said, it was still an entertaining listen.
It seems appropriate to write a review of this title on Australia Day. FitzSimons tells a familiar historical tale of the misuse of Australian troops by persons far away and without adequate appreciation of the facts as they were at the battleface. Like many stories of former gallantry, there is a sense of the inevitable and of the unnecessary. FitzSimons captures all of this and more. He is unflattering in his condemnation of criminal negligence, whether it was Blamey's or McArthur's. He is patriotic to a fault and respectful of the Digger and the Digger's duty to his mates. He tells the story, often in the first person, relying on interviews with survivors, diaries and other contemporaneous records. It reads like a novel in parts and a documentary in others. At times it choked me up, but it often made me smile. It is a strange thing that one can be proud of some much bloodshed. That said, if the book has a failing, it is that it is a wee bit too empathic for me and, I suspect many Australians, preferring as we do to let the result speak for itself and not boast about it. Of course there are exceptions, and FitzSimons might have found a valid one here.
As for FitzGerald's reading, I thought it an outstanding performance from an accomplished artist. He captured the fervor, the frustration and the brutality, and his nuance was pitched perfectly. I loved the use of the 1940's Australian idiom (now, sadly, dying) but I thought the use of an echo on many of the quotations was an unnecessary dramatic device. I liked the Chapter divides military segue. I note that the new edition of the hardcopy contains an Afterword that is not in this production, but which is short and could be read in the bookshop waiting in line!
I think this is an important read for most Australians. I was heartened to see from the reviews on this site that it struck a chord with many others, too. I would be interested to know how it has been received in a Japanese market because, although critical of Japanese brutality (to themselves and others), it is respectful of those unfortunate men of both sides that gave their lives to hold or take a sod of mud in a jungle far from their homes.
Over three decades since I last read this classic of the genre that Poe made his own and which he labelled in his anthology, the "Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque", it has lost none of psychological intensity. Long before there was Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock before him, Poe was frightening the growing number of adults who were looking for something more than the prevalent romances of his time. In some ways, Poe borrowed from the noir repertoire that was entrenched in Paris, in others, as I have mentioned, he created his own style.
The symbolism is almost as important as the literal, and it remains so.
I regret that I did not care for Ms Dobson's reading. In my opinion she paused where there was no warrant to pause and her nasal delivery grated upon me. Also, perhaps strangely, she ended many sentences with a flat, downward inflection to the detriment of the words and the symbolism.
The rating is a reflection of the narration, not the tale that remains as full of dread today as when I first read it.
I downloaded this title because of Simon Vance, one of my favourite narrators, and because I had enjoyed "Imperium" and cannot get the sequel in audio in Oz. The storyline does have similarities to the latter (and in fact assumes some knowledge of Cicero's famous victory over Hortenius in the matter of the regent of Syracuse) and Vance did not let me down with his reading skills. That said, the book is not a deep one, more a "who done it" set in Roman times and populated by some well known personalities, including Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great and his co-Consul, Crassus. Of course, Cicero and the great filibusterer, Hortensius, play important roles, too. The plot is sufficiently salacious to be fun and the history is sufficiently important to the plot to make it interesting. Alas, the protagonist, Decius, is not good enough to be admirable, nor flawed enough to be pitied, so I am yet to make my mind up about his future appeal. However, I had enough fun to give him (and SPQR) another go so long as Vance continues to be his voice.
Every audio book is an interpretation of the text, so it must be a daunting exercise to embark upon the production of a classic. This is certainly a classic and Alessandro Juliani's is a fine interpretation of its haunting and equivocal messages. I enjoyed the pace of his reading, as well as his tone. His Harey and Snout are both excellent, not how I had previously read them, and yet completely valid.
As for the plot, it is one of those that can be debated ad nauseum and often is at both Secondary and Tertiary levels. Is Kris Kelvin imagining Harey, a past tragic lover? Are the rest of the crew of the space station deluded or delusional? Is Solaris truly alive? What other secrets does Dr Snout have? Does any of it matter if Solaris is alive? The questions are posed and not always answered in this complex, poetic, si-fi classic.
If you like si-fi that makes you think (like "Blade Runner", or "Foundation", or "Eon") I suspect this translation and production will appeal to you for all the right reasons.
A primer is defined by the Macquarie Dictionary as "an elementary book for teaching children to read" and "any, often small, book of elementary principles". The subtitle of this work, I suspect, is intended to convey both of these meanings as well as a fundamental feminist message about the education of young ladies. However, the book is anything but small. Unfortunately, I have succumbed to the same fault in this review!
This title is classic Stephenson; flooded with detail, interesting characters who are never wholly rouges or heroes, and stuffed with complexity. But, I regret to write that, in my view, it is too long. I would suggest that it might be worth waiting for an abridged version but I can see no abridged versions of any of his titles.
That doesn't mean this is not worth the effort to listen/read. It is, but you probably already need to be a Stephenson addict to listen through the nearly 19 hours of audio and keep track of the characters. I was forced to write out a dramatis personae and to keep notes as the plot developed. Absent the notes, the detail would have been hard to keep in one's head. Again, that's not necessarily a bad thing (I had to do the same thing for War and Peace and I had the benefit of the hard copy in that case), but it does require effort. If you want an easy read, then this probably isn't for you. Even if you come without that expectation, don't try too hard to understand the lingo for the first 1.5 to 2 hours; most of it is invented and eventually explained or becomes obvious.
The short plot is worth noting. The story is set in Shanghai and the Leased Territories (the LT), but they now have more imaginative names like "Enchanted", "Coastal Republic" and the "Celestial Kingdom" (although the latter is more a political than a geographic description). The story concerns the creation of a primer to educate the niece, Elizabeth, of the influential Lord Alexander Chenk Shek Fingle-McGraw. Theprimer is copied and made available to his agent, John Percival Hackworth's, daughter, Fiona. The primer is an interactive book which teaches the young girls by the use of games, read stories and parables. These two girls and a clever, but uneducated waif from a dysfunctional home, Nell, learn from the primer and develop in self-absorbed but different ways. Nell (Princess Nell in the primer stories) is the principal character and her development and almost messiah like revelation is at the heart of the book. Keep an ear out because Stephenson summarises the entire plot in one paragraph about 2 to 3 hours in.
The themes explore the education of girls (as opposed to boys), the relative value of female children, interactive learning as well as a number of subsidiary themes. All of this is done with Stephenson's normal cleverness, internet nous and wickedly comical sense of humor. For example, the parody of the Wizard of Oz is terrific.
Two notes, bearing on reviews I read of this title from Audible readers. I agree that there is a lot of potentially offensive language, especially in the first two thirds of the book. A lot of this is gratuitous and could have been left out without affecting the listen, but it's there, so you may want to bear that in mind depending on who else might be listening. However, I disagree that the sexual content is unnecessary to the plot of the book. It (including the allusion to orgiastic indulgence) is essential to the plot. Personally, I thought it was well handled, without unnecessary vulgarity. What's there is important (and is really only in the last third of the listen).
Finally, to end this long review, it would be remiss not to congratulate Jennifer Wiltsie. Her characterisations are terrific, especially of the younger females.
I love this book. It has been described by no less a judge than Salman Rushdie as one of the best books in any language in the last 50 years! High praise indeed, and thoroughly deserved. It is a tour de force of imagination, perseverance and detail. The carefully drawn portraits, like looking at charcoal sketches brushed together when the subject wasn't watching, are exquisite in their details and perceptions. I read it with vigor over a few days.
But that was some time ago.
Having listened to "Love in the Time of Cholera" recently, I really had to have another go at this classic. I did this despite the reviews that warned of Lee's narration and the difficulty people had following the plot line. I was wrong; I should have paid attention to reviewer's I trust. That said, I was underwhelmed by this production for different reasons than those advanced in earlier reviews.
My main problem with this production was with the narration. I have scored it accordingly. However, it was not the speed (or not just the speed) and it was not the complexity of the repetition of names (as generation after generation of Aurelianos and Arcardios and Ursulas passed accross the virtual pages of the story). Really, if I am truthful, it was the accent. Lee has a hint of the Scott in his voice that makes him sound like Sean Connery from time to time. With the affected Spanish overtone this reminded me (by unfavourable comparison) with Connery's Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez in the "Highlander" franchise. It just did not fit. Add to that the speed and the Spanish/Latin names and it just didn't work for me. I really had to push myself to listen to the wonderful ending to this wonderful book.Such a pity.
In retrospect, I suggest that you get the hard copy and read it. I hope you love it as much as I do. Alternatively, wait for another version to be released.
I have been awaiting some time a copy of Bertolucci's movie to arrive. In the meantime I listened over and over to the Police's "Tea in the Sahara". When the DVD arrived it was from the wrong zone. So it's taken some time to complete the circle of information that I wanted before I commenced on the review. In a way, the waiting was a fair reflection of the tedium that the book so casually describes. "Casual" is an appropriate word too, because Port and Kit (the protagonists) remind me of Fitzgerald's "careless people"; their lives are so self-absorbed, it is really quite hard to like either of them. Tunner (the third leg of the stool) is not any more redeeming.
It took me a while to get into the novel. It wasn't until I started approaching it like a long, un-parsed poem, just listening to the words without really trying to make them mean too much that I started to get a feel for the solitude and lack of solicitude that Bowels brings to the whole landscape. On reflection now, I think it is an inspired piece of writing, but for a third of the novel, I struggled with it and with the narration.
When I got it, then I appreciated the narration that Jennifer Connelly brought to the words. The flat, toneless delivery contrasted so starkly with the eloquence of the language; "the meaningless hegemony of the voluntary" and the title driving, "Reach out. Pierce the fine fabric of the sheltering sky and take repose". Just writing the words brings forth the images that are so beautifully captured by Bertolucci's lens and Ryuichi Sakamoto's haunting theme.
I must say I loved this book more after I finished it than when reading it. That suggests to me that it is not for everyone. However, if you are the one for it, get yourself a copy of the film after you have finished listening. A young Malkovich and a very young Debra Winger. You won't regret the wait.
I have struggled with the last few McEwan titles although I have been a long-time fan (ever since I first read Amsterdam). This is a welcome return to Amsterdam form. I do not know if my familiarity with the legal themes helped with this perception, but it certainly did not hurt. In fact, there were times when I thought a person who was not intimately familiar with the English common law system and the precedent system particular to the United Kingdom (which is different in nuance from the US, for example), might have missed some of the subtleties of the narrative. It made me wonder if I have missed like subtleties in recent books (say about the publishing houses referred to in Sweet Tooth) and thereby misjudged them. In the end, I ignored the nagging doubt and settled back to enjoy the book. I don't think a legal background is a prerequisite
I thought Lindsay Duncan's read a very good one; not unlike Carole Boy's reading of Atonement and Juliet Stevenson's reading of Sweet Tooth. I suspect that whomever chooses Mr McEwan's narrators has a preference. For my part, I would not argue with that. The one constant in the three titles that I've mentioned is the high standard of the narration. This time (and with Atonement, notwithstanding my second time doubts), the content and the performance were a par.
It has been a long time indeed since I read this title. I recall it being rather dull and somewhat disturbing for a reason I couldn't quite put my finger upon. Now, with the benefit of time, I understand that I was not old enough to appreciate the chilling undertone to a book, where there is so little violence (although a fair number of people die), but an eerie threat permeates the text. That threat is like a fog that I associates with East Berlin, the Wall and all thinks KGB, NKVD and the other counterpoints to MI6 and the CIA. Listening to the narrative now I appreciate the grit, the ugliness and the end justifies everything mendacity that drove people like Smiley, Leamas, Mundt, Control, Fiedler and others. It is the reverse of the superficial sense of fairness of Liz Gold.
This is still a cracker story with a terrific ending. It's not the same as the film (with Richard Burton terrific in the Leamas role) although the core scenes are pretty close. Le Carre had a hand in the screenplay, so I guess that's not so surprising.
As for Michael Jayston's reading, I vacillated between loving it and being frustrated when he dropped the accents. In particular, his Leamas starts with a distinct Burton-like quality, but by the final chapter it had gone completely. I am not sure if that was an intended conceit, but if it was, it did not work for me. In the end I gave it a 3, but overall it is probably about a 3.5.
This was a very enjoyable re-discovery. I am sure it will prompt me to re-read the Karla Trilogy.
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