This great story is not going to be to everyone's liking. Unlike the Harry Potter books the author is famous for, this story does not have a set of clearly defined goodies and baddies, nor are there any characters that are particularly likeable. The book does not have a happy ending where good triumphs over evil, nor does it have the "feel good" escapist factor of a fantasy novel. It is not a moral or positive story that shows how the goodness of the human spirit can overcome great adversity.
By contrast, this book shows an extremely realistic depiction of modern life in Britain. It vividly portrays the interactions between a set of multi-dimensional, colourful yet credible characters in a small town setting. The book explores complex social and political problems in the context of this microcosm in a balanced way without simplifying the issues or portraying people holding one viewpoint in a better light than those holding the opposite viewpoint. To me, the book had the feel of a contemporary Charles Dickens' novel because of its fantastic and richly described characters and its focus a small slice of the world. The book is a real page-turner and whilst dark, it is quite funny in places.
Many reviewers have commented on the amount of swearing in the book. I disagree with the opinion of some that the use of swear words is gratuitous and is just there to make the novel appear "adult". On the contrary, I believe that every word - including the swear words - the characters in this novel utter are there to reflect and express those characters' particular identity and circumstances. I believe that it is extremely realistic for teenage girl growing up in a very deprived area to frequently swear at her heroin addicted mother - and everybody else. It would not be credible to me if this girl spoke in any other way. "Gosh mother I am terribly sorry to bother you but I would appreciate it if you would reflect upon the fact that your continued heroin use constitutes a blight on my life...".
The stories in this collection are all quite different in nature. As a consequence, some will appeal more than others depending on one's taste. Whilst I would have given 4-5 stars to the stories by Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe, some of the others I found quite boring and unengaging, hence an overall score of 3. The narrators all do a great job.
Having read LOTR I did not expect the characters in the Hobbit to be extremely well-rounded or realistic. However, what I did expect were a set of solid and credible reasons for why characters made certain decisions or took certain actions - but this was completely lacking up until the battle of the five armies near the end of the book. In some cases the reasons given were extremely poor - we are told for example that Gandalf and the dwarfs traveled all the way to Bag End in Hobbiton to pick up someone with no relevant experience whatsoever (Bilbo) to join their extremely dangerous mission because they didn't want to be a party of 13, an unlucky number (?????). In addition, sometimes no real reasons were given at all - for example, we are told that the goblins captured our party whilst they were asleep at night because goblins are an evil and wicked race.
The other problem I had with the audio-book were the numerous lengthy poems and songs that contributed nothing to the plot. They just went on, and on, and on (I can't fast-forward on my iPod). I found them tedious in the extreme. I generally like fantasy stories and have no problems reading children's literature (I love the Harry Potter series for example) but I really did not enjoy the Hobbit as much as I expected. It wasn't terrible, don't get me wrong, but I really don't understand why this book is considered a classic. The plot is very weak due to a profound lack of credible (or indeed any) character motivations. Nevertheless, the story has lots of action and the numerous adventures Bilbo experiences are all described well and really draw you in. For this reason I give the book three stars overall.
I got this audio book thinking it was a genuine travel account. It is not - it is comedy. It is moderately funny - provided you can stomach all the heavy stereotyping. Lots of English cultural references that someone unfamiliar with English society might not get.
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