I am new to audiobooks and am reveling in their power. I'd picked up "Kavalier and Clay" several years ago and gotten bogged down by the sheer size of the volume--a real doorstop of a novel. But I'd always wanted to read it, and am grateful for this superb audio version. In that sense: yes, the audiobook was better for me than the print book.
The historical sweep, the sense of what World War II meant to Americans and Europeans on a personal, experiential level, the complexity and reality of the characters, and (as always with Chabon) the delicacy, respect, and sensuality with which he treats gay characters. I'm not sure where this straight author's fascination with homosexuality comes from, but he is one of the greatest of our "gay" writers. He dramatizes the struggles of Jewish people and the struggles of gay people with an almost uncanny empathy.
David Colacci nailed everyone, but his portrayal of Joe Kavalier took my breath away.
"K & C" has the sweep and depth of a classic nineteenth-century novel--a book of great intelligence, imagination, and depth.
This novel won the Booker Prize, and I can understand why. It has a very compelling narrative arc--it actually juggles three plot lines simultaneously--and Atwood's command of language is dazzling. Her turns of phrase, metaphors, and descriptions catch you off guard with their out-of-kilter clarity. (This is a book you want to quote.) She is able to paint characters of great complexity, to talk about sexual intimacy with frankness, to engage the reader as both storyteller and social historian. I was drawn in from the very beginning and had that delicious "book sadness" when it was over. Given that there is a story within the story, and another story within the subsidiary story, it might have been a less than ideal candidate for audio presentation. But Margot Dionne is one of the finest readers I have encountered yet, on a par with Prunella Scales and Simon Vance. Utterly fluent with the prose, she is able to give each character an immediately recognizable voice--cadence, timbre, accent. She made this multi-faceted book clear at every point. I have read some complaints about the recorded sound. No, it was not done in a quiet digital studio, but I had no issues with the continuity, the occasional background noises (birds chirping quietly at one point), the bit of hiss in the playback. If anything, it suited the material perfectly. This beautiful novel is in the best possible hands. Highly recommended.
I am a fairly well-read person, yet I'd managed to miss this cornerstone work for my entire life. I am very glad that I encountered it in the voice of Simon Vance. He is a superb reader, with a fine sense of timing and drama. I was riveted by the story and (I admit it) I wept at the end, sobbed like a baby. Maybe it was good that I waited so long to get to this great book!
I'd never read any Baldwin and it was high time to fill in the gap. I think "Giovanni's Room" is a good way to get to know this extraordinary author. The writing is filled with beauty, the characters are potent and alive, and Baldwin's ability to evoke time and place (cities, seasons, an entire era) is masterful. The tone is unrelievedly elegiac; the sad ending is announced at the very beginning, and there is precious little joy in the narrative. Every character is at some kind of impasse. But Baldwin describes everyone with such vivid detail that their dead-ends blaze in Technicolor.
Dan Butler is a fine actor, and he doesn't fight the dolefulness of the book. He lives it. He has good timing, he finds non-stagy ways to evoke the characters, and he turns Baldwin's novel into a subtle, powerful monologue. He has variety and soul.
What's the catch? Something that could have been avoided, alas. There is a lot of French in this book--most of it takes place in Paris, some in the south of France--and Butler has no idea how to pronounce the many, many French phrases. It's not merely that he has an American accent. Sometimes I simply could not figure out what he was saying at all. He's such a believable, sympathetic reader. I wish he'd taken the time to coach the French and get it right. He doesn't even pronounce the title character's name correctly; sometimes he gets the name "Guillaume" right but in the next paragraph he'll call the man "Zhee-yome." Etc. For me, a distraction and an irritation. For another reader, perhaps less of an issue.
"Giovanni's Room" is shortish--a manageable length, and I think a beautiful entry into the world of James Baldwin. I am ready for more.
I chose this book because it was recommended by a musician I admire. It is Nabokov's twelfth novel but the first book he wrote in English, and as always his command of the language is breathtaking. But I was very disappointed by "Sebastian Knight," which seems to be a kind of philosophical meditation on identity, creativity, family, mortality, the very nature of biography itself. Big issues, but here presented in a navel-gazing modality that eluded me almost entirely. The book is so turned into itself that there seems to be no entry-point for the reader. I see "Sebastian Knight" as a study for "Pale Fire," which handles the "literary biography with unreliable narrator" with far greater interest and drama--and much more interesting characters.
Nabokov's work is given a singularly inept reading by Luke Daniels. The tone of his narrative completely misses the color and rhythm of the writing which is the book's great strength. It's a bit like seeing Chekkov acted by, say, John Ritter. The atmosphere is wrong. To make matters worse, Mr. Daniels makes an embarrassing mess of all the French words in the book--of which there are a fair amount. "Tant mieux" comes out as "toned mew." Tone-deaf is more like it.
I found a copy of "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight" on line and started to read some of the passages I had just listened to. Though I doubt I'll ever truly love this novel, I did feel that I had missed its true colors because of Daniels. My advice: go for the print version this time. Much as I believe in audiobooks, this offering did a big disservice to Nabokov.
This book has a very interesting premise--truly thought-provoking, And it is executed by an extraordinarily graceful writer. The story works both as a straight-ahead what-if thriller and also as a metaphor for issues from our current world.
All of the characters have a vivid individuality. Any recommendations would qualify as spoilers. Sam Cabot (aka S. J. Rozan) evokes personalities quickly and indelibly. Whether good-hearted, manipulative, cruel, desperate, smart, dumb, perceptive, or deluded, the personalities are strong and believable.
Jason Culp has to do a variety of accents in "Blood of the Lamb"--upper and lower class Italian, English, Hungarian, Argentine, German, and Americans from Boston and New York. It's an almost-virtuoso turn by Jason Culp. I was caught up short occasionally by some mispronunciations (I don't think that will bother a lot of other people). The main thing is that I always knew which character was speaking because of Culp's inflection--whether 100% authentic or not. And he keeps the rhythm of the book going quite masterfully. He breathes noiselessly and reads with easy fluency.
I was held by the entire story, but the ending of the novel packs a real punch. I read it two or three times just to savor it again.
Smart, engaging, surprising
Tinker--because we only see him through the other characters, and therefore learn about him slowly. He is a man with many secrets.
She captures the rhythm and tempo of every character's speech, and brings each one to life. She is no slowpoke, but she lingers just enough for the listener to absorb the details of Amor Towles's writing, especially the dialogue.
It held my interest and fascinated me from beginning to (almost the) end. I was struck by the way Towles can evoke highly erotic situations without getting graphic. Laugh? Cry? Not exactly. Hang on every word is more like it.
I think the end of the book--the longish "Rules of Civility"--might be better read off the page, rather narrated by a reader. It was the one disappointment of the novel, and not a serious lapse. The story itself came to a graceful conclusion.
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