First, this is now my favorite classic,which is funny because I had never heard of it before I found it on Audible. (They never teach the good stuff in high school). The reviews on this site pretty much sum up why it's so great, so if you're prepared to feel a bit sad when it's over then you'll probably love it.
My only complaint is about the narration, but I would NOT give the narration less than 4 stars. The problem for me was that Robin Field uses the same cadence for every line that isn't being spoken by a character, and for a few that are. It's sort of like when you're learning about iambic pentameter in 11th grade English, and the whole class ends up reading in a kind of monotone sing-song. And THEN he WALKED out TO the BARN and RAKED. It wasn't quite that bad, and the rhythm was less obvious than iambic pentameter, but I found myself nodding my head a little to the pattern and it was a bit distracting. His VOICE, though, is utterly hypnotic,and once I got past that rhythm issue each time I started listening I got pulled in and didn't want to turn it off.
Listening to this audiobook felt like listening to what my grandfather must have sounded like as a young man. That's part of the beauty of the story, too, that you truly feel like you're listening to someone's life story, not some glamorized, plot driven adventure. It touches you because it could BE you - it's one of those rare stories where the character's decisions are not what drives his story, they're just what determine how he lives with his simple disappointments.
First let me say that I ordinarily do not like audiobooks read by more than one reader. Just as I am really beginning to become absorbed by the timbre, tone and cadence of one reader, another voice comes in and I find it jarring. This was NOT the case with this book. I fell in love with the first reader and became absorbed almost instantly, and when the other reader came in a while later I was able to remain without effort in the flow of the story. Their two voices complement one another's perfectly, and the transitions are seamless.
The story is beautiful. Two lonely people who have had, and lost, family find the courage to accept new and different kinds of family. That's basically the gist of the overarching plot. The details are what makes it so vibrant, and it is done believably and with an honesty that takes your breath away. The author NAILS the stream-of-consciousness of a teenager without ever rendering him whiny or annoying, and the sophisticated flow of the hermit's narration is entirely in keeping with the character's secluded, academic past. At no point do you think "really?" when they do something.
Arthur's consciousness of his obesity is enough to make anyone rethink their opinion about the subject. He is calmly detached from it, aware of everything it means about him, and everything it means to others who see him. When he begins planning his eating around Yolanda's presence you get the full picture of a man who must maintain his sense of self calorically. His naked perspective of his body and his health is heartbreaking and deeply moving.
Kell is entirely lovable. He's a more stereotypical character, poor kid from Yonkers whose mom gets him a spot at a rich prep school, no other family or friends, struggling to make good on an exceptional talent in the face of adversity. But being inside his mind as he goes through the 6 months or so over which the story takes place is unbelievably real. You want so badly for things to go his way, and whether they do or don't you will find yourself filled with respect for the grace with which he takes it all.
I was not paying attention to how much time was left to this book, and when it ended I was so furious I had to laugh at myself for getting angry at my iPod, like it was the iPod's fault I couldn't listen for another hour. There has been some negative feedback about the book's conclusion, and I'll address that without including any spoilers, since I hope you will want to read this book: it does end at what seems like a rather crucial final scene, but after considering it I think that reaction was wrong - or rather, correct but intentional on the part of the author. The book ends just as what you've been waiting for is about to happen, but really if the author had gone ahead with that scene you wouldn't be at the end of a book - you'd be at the start of a brand new one.
Bottom line, there is no one part of this book that makes it excellent - story, narration, character development, believability, etc. It's ALL there, and the components fit together perfectly. Kudos to the author and to the production team - this is one which I will recommend to anyone and everyone.
Great book by a great writer, read by a master. This is one I will recommend over and over again. Thanks, Audible.
This is a great story that the reader absolutely destroyed. She sounds like she's skipping through a field of daisies with a whimsical smile on her face during every scene. Wrong book for that, dear. This book is for young adults, not challenged 5 year olds. Boo. I want my credit back.
Other people seem to like this book. Not me. Perhaps this book is better in French, but this translation is terrible. Dull story, predictable, one- dimensional characters, obvious plot. WAY overblown themes.
This was one of those books that I expected would fill my drive to work nicely, but I didn't really start listening with huge expectations for a lasting impression. I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself totally drawn in by the reader, laughing out loud within the first 5 minutes of the Fang family's first "event." The story is great, but it's the detail with which their individual and collective personalities are shaped that makes this such a great listen. Even during the funniest moments, there is a lingering sadness which follows the family, and during their saddest moments there is still a bizarre humor which eases their awkward pain. Therese Plummer's performance is hypnotic, and she renders each character's voice uniquely - usually I shut off my book when I pull into my driveway and resume it the next morning on my way to work, but Plummer made it impossible to find a good place to end it. I ended up listening to this while I did dishes, while I folded laundry, pretty much any time I could think of a chore to justify it. The last chapter I gave up looking for pretext, got into bed and listened through to the end before falling asleep. The author makes art a character in the story, fittingly the type of chaotic art that his characters chase and/or avoid so fervently. He makes emotion a tangible thing that you can visualize as you listen, seeing it in color and movement. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and I will look for more books read by the narrator.
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