It has been a very long time since I read such a well-written, and well-narrated [or performed] book. I found it riveting from the beginning. The story is a fictionalized retelling, through the voices of several contemporaries, of the life of an extraordinary woman. Google "Violette Morris" if you want to know more]. The technique of giving each person a different narrator, each with a voice sufficiently distinctive that you can easily tell them apart, is used to excellent effect here [I wish someone would arrange for Susan Howatch's "historical" novels to be redone this way]. The main protagonist herself, called Lou Villar in the book, does not give her own viewpoint, but we see her through the eyes of those who are close to her, although, in the end, she remains something of a mystery. Some of the characters are composites ["Lionel Main" seems based on Henry Miller with a touch, maybe, of Hemingway] and others are basically only renamed [check out the photos of Brassai on Google], and yet others are probably fictional. The title is a paraphrasing of the title of a real photograph.Some of the history covered was familiar to me, but most was not. Some commenters think the book is a bit prolix and long; I do not, because describing how a woman like Lou Villar [or, if you will, Morris] became what she became is not something one can do briefly. Francine Prose should be very happy with this audio rendition, which really brings her wonderful book to life. If I have any criticism, I would have liked a note at the end informing listeners who performed which characters.
This is the tale of two deeply flawed people, told from the viewpoint of one of them: Anne Morrow Lindbergh. And, it must be remembered, it is a novel, not a biography. Anne would not have felt that her own affair was in the same class as Lindbergh's -- why should it be expected that she would be objective about such a subject? I am sure Lindbergh married Anne because he needed an acolyte to make him feel more secure; repeatedly it is stressed that he only felt really comfortable tinkering with his planes and flying solo. He was uneasy with people. Anne, on the other hand, was, by her own admission, plain, gawky, and shy, and was thrilled that such a celebrity wanted her. Even on their pioneering air trips, she was his "crew", not his "co-pilot". He bolstered his own self-confidence by constantly "teaching" her, attempting to control all aspects of her life, and making sure she was grateful to him for it all. It took her a while, but she does describe him, after years, as a bully -- and bullies are always afraid of their own inadequacies.
Neither was prepared for the celebrity, which was less common back then [I find myself reminded of Prince Charles and Diana, although the Prince was raised to be a celebrity], with its concomittant complete loss of privacy [although, during the time they lived out of the limelight in Germany, they actually found the cessation of publicity also difficult to live with], and for parenthood -- or for the tragedy they suffered. When you think of it, it was quite remarkable that Anne managed to surmount the pressures on her to the extent she did.
Lindbergh's social attitudes, it has to be remembered, were not extreme for his time. There was a general assumption that the "white races" represented the best in civilization, and there was a pervasive attitude that Jews were "different". [Just look at an author like Dorothy L. Sayers for her "genteel" anti-semitism, btw]. Politically, he was by no means the only naif of the period, but his pronouncements carried weight because he was in the public eye. It is hard for us now to remember just how much has changed in the past 60+ years.
A number of reviewers did not like Ms. Raver's narration. I found it very good, precisely because her voice is that of a mature woman, and because she is capable of emotion. Neither did I find the book overwritten. The sense of time and place is well-created; the personalities of both Lindberghs are well-delineated, with all their warts. It is difficult to make dysfunctional people [and relationships] believeable but Ms. Benjamin does so. In my opinion, this is one of the best books I have listened to recently.
Gilded Cages is the second book recounting the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine; the first, Beloved Enemy, tells of her marriage to Louis of France and the beginning of her life with Henry II; this volume completes her biography. The story is well-known; the main difference from some writers' interpretation is that Thomas a Becket is portrayed very negatively.
Apart from Ms. Jones' excessive fondness for the archaic term "sennight" [a week], which she uses on every occasion she can fit it in, I found this an enjoyable listen, and well read. Falls into the "ripping yarn" category. Recommended, as long as you are not looking for a scholarly work. Some of the episodes are more legendary than documented.
I bought this because I like Sansom's Matthew Shardlake stories. This is not as good. Alan Furst does this genre much better.
This is an interesting approach to the subject of the Mongol conquerer, Temujin, better known as Genghis Khan, because it is told from the point of view of some of the women in his life. The names of his mother and his first wife are known, and at least one other wife, but I suspect that some of the characters are entirely fictional, and even those persons whose names have come down to us are barely known in reality, so the author has had considerable latitude in the creation of her story. However, Pamela Sargent seems to have done her research. [She does not contradict anything I ever learned about the Mongols from the books of Harold Lamb, a historian of the period]. To be honest, the Mongols don't seem to have been the sort of persons one would want for neighbors -- their lives tended to be nasty, brutish, and short. But Sargent makes them believeable people, not monsters.
Bernard Clark is a competent reader, but a bit flat at times. Overall, I think 4 to 4 1/2 stars for this audiobook.
This is a good book if you like really long novels which encompass [in this case] two families over most of a century. It begins just as the Battle of Waterloo is underway, and ends shortly before the 20th century. Large cast of characters -- sometimes a little hard to remember who is who. Costain is a competent writer, but I must admit that David Case is not one of my favorite readers, although he is somewhat better than usual with this book [the only other book I think he did really well was Margaret George's "Autobiography of Henry VIII"]. He can do accents, but his normal reading voice has a supercilious drawl to it.
Inevitably, the main characters age, and so there is more emphasis on them in their later years -- the whole plot revolves around who will survive the longest and win the "tontine", a form of gamble where the oldest survivor will get the most money out of the scheme. This means considerable dialogue where voices are quavering [and even rambling].
Definitely a "big read".
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