Tackling the unusual subject of a man's battle with Alzheimer's in a sympathetic and believable way, this is a complex book that requires maximum concentration throughout, but in the end it is more than worth it. The topic is lovingly handled, Barrett's narration is the most convincing I have heard, and the 'reader' can not help but find their perceptions of this debilitating disease have been challenged as a result.
If you're after thrill-a-minute action and suspense, this story is not for you. If you are after something thought-provoking, moving and challenging, this book is worth every cent. It is the kind of book I may well play all over again, just to go back through the early chapters from a position of having heard the whole story, as I am sure there would be much that I missed. Not many books make you want to do that.
First things first, hats off to Jim Norton for an inspired interpretation of what is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination. Norton at least makes it possible for the listener to, by and large, keep up with what's happening. Most of the time.
Look, I can see why people rave about the genius of the book. The wildly shifting narratives are blinding to keep up with, especially the stream-of-consciousness chapters, and it must be a special talent that can not only put us in these different peoples' heads, but also parallel Homer's Odyssey in the process. I'm not familiar with Homer and am not particularly inclined to investigate, but all this still could not distract me from the fact that very little of interest is ever actually happening. I think that might kind of be the point though.
At the end of the day, it was on my bucket list to get through this so I'm really glad that I did it. But I would never say this was even close to being a fun read or a riveting story, so I would only recommend this to people who want that sense of satisfaction you might get by having read the book that all that fuss was over.
I've read a few of de Bernieres earlier books and really enjoyed them, particularly the dreamily evocative language he uses to draw life into new (and often fictional) regions, with powerfully crafted characters and a real sense of authority. Here, LDB proves his mastery again, in a tale full of rich and vibrant people and places, mixed with the harsh conditions and dreadful atrocities of wartime Greece.
A sign of a compelling experience is when you feel your emotions rising in various scenes, which I especially found with Weber, Carlo and Mandras (on more than one occasion). When you unwittingly buy into a story to the extent that you're actively urging someone to do something, you know you've found a winning story.
The only reason I fell short of the maximum 5 stars was that I was not really convinced by the events of the latter stages, which I found a little weak in light of everything the characters had been through. Doubtlessly, others may not feel the same. I have not seen the film to know if it followed the same path.
Even so, I did really enjoy the whole book. I think LDB is a very under-rated author and I hope we get to take on more of his work.
I'm normally a glass-half-full kind of person, but I find it very difficult to be positive about this book. I'll try though. First off, it's the usual fast-paced Langdon jaunt. The formula is precisely the same as in the other books, so if you've experienced and enjoyed them, there is a remote possibility you might enjoy this one. And, if you've ever wanted a kind of cheat's version of all things Dante, Florence and Venice, here it is. Actually, it isn't. You'd be better off with Wikipedia, though you'll probably find it's almost the same thing.
Ok, that's the good. Now, there is an awful lot of bad, so I'll keep it to the things that really stuck in my throat. First off, the tour guide stuff was painfully rammed in, e.g. 'Langdon struggled to believe that [building X] was torn down in 1693 and rebuilt from the ground up using only natural materials.' That kind of thing. Langdon never ceases to amaze with his ability to marvel at architectural significance, almost always with a Bond-esque one-liner to throw away, all while fleeing for his life from a gun-toting villain.
Second, Brown contrives a background story where a character 'dreamed of playing European football' (nobody, least of all Italian security guards, refers to soccer as European football) and then he unforgivably compounds this by saying the game on TV had just 'gone into overtime.' There's no such thing in soccer. Come on, Brown, this is just amateur. It is not an isolated incident. If you know nothing about a subject, don't write about it.
Third, the narrator just wound me up with his pronunciation of 'Consortium' as 'Con-zor-sham.'
Finally, if you think my gripes are superficial, it's because I'm trying to avoid dropping spoilers. My major issue is with the entire story. It felt like Brown was just determined to dazzle everyone with his clearly new-found knowledge of Dante and Florence, and hoped nobody noticed the entire story was contrived to fit around it. The entire premise I found utterly ridiculous.
For the record, I enjoyed the movie of the Da Vinci Code (though I didn't read it), and I subsequently read Angels & Demons and The Lost Symbol and really hated both, so I don't know what compelled me to go back. I guess I was hoping the score would even out at 2-2. But it's 1-3, and emphatically so.
Jacobson is a strong writer but I think, unless you have any great investiture in London's Jewish community and the concepts of guilt and shame, then, like me, you will probably find this is a story that doesn't really go anywhere or do it quickly enough. Jacobson writes with some solid and subtle irony, but the narrator didn't help with consistent child-like interpretations in the speech.
I'm quite amazed it picked up the Booker. I didn't think the main character, Treslove, or the eponymous Finkler, were strong or different enough characters and didn't particularly care what happened to either. It did pick up a little in the final third with the Libor sub-plot but, even so, I found it came as a great relief when it was over.
Whilst I didn't completely buy into the narration of a 98 year old, the story is very faithful of the old school gothic manner to which it clearly aspires. Morton's writing is loving and sensitive and Caroline Lee serves up some quite lively storytelling. I wanted to like this a bit more than I actually did, but it was a quite inoffensive yarn nonetheless.
It's not a pretty story, with some rather confronting themes, but Coetzee has a way of making the words dance off the page, proving once again that he is one of today's greatest living writers, and Cumpsty's interpretation does it perfect justice. If you listen to this right through, you should be left only wanting to read more of Coetzee's work.
This is a great story with two flaws for me. First, and of less concern, was that I found Hosseini's narration rather unemotional. Authors seldom narrate as well as a pro and the use of Afghan terms immediately followed by their English translation was a technique that reminded me of the way Handy Manny introduces Spanish to kids.
Secondly, and the biggest problem for me, was that I found the lead character utterly contemptible. While his first cowardly act was understandable for a young boy, the enormity of the way he compounds it was, for me, far beyond the remorse he expressed or exhibited afterwards. I think the story kind of trivialised that aspect of the betrayal and I found that I had no sympathy for him as a result. When others told him he was being too hard on himself, I disagreed completely. I am sure we are supposed to feel some connection with him, but I hated him and kept on hating him. Nothing he did or any emotion he confessed made me warm to him, so I could not buy into the proposed redemption.
On the plus side, I loved the warm imagery of pre-war Afghanistan, which was powerfully contrasted with the horrors of the Taliban regime. The story is quite powerful, but remains stained by a lead character I could not bring myself to like.
I loved this story but the show stealer is really John Randolph Jones with a completely mesmeric narration of the older character. There are some memorable characters, as one would expect in the midst of a 1930s travelling circus. The ending was a bit too cutesy for me and I didn't really buy it, which is why I stopped short of the 5 stars, but its still a quite delightful novel and I would recommend it very highly.
Having read all three of the series before trying the audiobooks, I was impressed by how well Simon Vance brought the characters to life. While books 2 and 3 were basically one story, the first is a stand-alone 'locked door' mystery, of the type we have not seen probably since the days of Agatha Christie. As such, it is probably very difficult to conceptualize a fully satisfying conclusion without resorting to cliche. In this case, Larsson relies a little to heavily on several incredible coincidences to uncover the culprit for me to find it truly convincing. That, and Blomqvist's incessant casual bed-hopping (I think a great opportunity was missed to invoke some Mulder & Scully sexual tension), robbed the book of the final star for me.
While I found some of the literary devices a little crude to pay any great compliment to Larsson's style, this book is all about the plot, and that is quite outstanding.
While I think the Millennium Trilogy has been the most compelling in recent years and fully deserves it's hype, this book still suffers the same kind of irritations as its sister books (Blomqvist having casual sex with all female protagonists, a few too many coincidences and too longer bios introducing new characters), but the most infuriating thing was the ending. The story stops with way too much still in the air. It means you HAVE to continue to the 3rd book. Whilst I don't like the blatant marketing ploy, I don't think people will mind too much as these stories are the audio equivalent of unputdownable.
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