(may contain some spoilers)
An excellent book, perhaps not as tightly written as Enigma or Fatherland. A fairly linear plot, but the interest was well maintained. Impressive descriptions of Roman engineering. It makes you realise just how much we take fresh water for granted.
I suspect that much of the plot was lifted from a TV documentary called "Private Lives of Pompeii" screened in 2002. In this documentary there are the same freed slaves, traders, politicians, social structure - even private baths and water theft get coverage. Harris does acknowledge numerous ancient and modern texts, though, and anyone who visits Pompeii is told these same stories of the Pompeii people.
This book is essential reading for anyone wishing to be a civil or environmental engineer, or a vulcanologist. The whiff and menace of gaseous sulphur is in the air, and the science seems accurate, unlike the ridiculous "Dante's Peak" in which the lake suddenly became concentrated sulphuric acid (SO2 forms the weak sulphurous acid anyway) and then dissolved an aluminium dinghy (aluminium will only dissolve rapidly in caustic solution).
The engineer (aquarius) is a bit goody two shoes. I prefer the main protagonist to at least have to grapple with sexual and moral issues. The love interest is also somewhat wooden. On the other hand, scenes of feasting and the excesses of the wealthy were well done, and Pliny the Elder was well characterised. "Fortune favours the brave", he said, as he sailed directly for Pompeii and his own death - making this one of the most widely misquoted pieces of advice ever. In Australia, football commentators have corrupted this saying to "Luck's a fortune" which is a meaningless expression, is it not ?
Overall, this was a book well worth listening to. Very thought provoking, never boring. I would recommend it to anyone, even though you know the mountain has to erupt. That does not really matter to the development of the plot.
This book won the prestigious Booker prize, I believe. The Booker is usually a fairly controversial short list, weighted towards strange and erudite fiction, authors like Salman Rushdie. At the beginning of 'Life of Pi' I wondered how this book, a relatively simple novel, could be considered for the Booker, but as the story developed it became apparent that there were complexities, layers within layers. The slow drift from 'real' to 'unreal' was done with such grace and fluidity as to be imperceptible. This does, however, make for a fairly long book, and when listening to it, you do need to be patient. The rewards are there, especially in the last third of the book, and then it is possible to see why 'Life of Pi' was so highly rated in literature circles. It falls into that category of a plot-witin-a-plot, like, for example, AS Byatt's 'Possession' or (in movie terms) Truffaut's classic 'Day for Night'. But 'Life of Pi' achieves the effect in a far more linear way, and this is probably what appealed to the judges.
Some reviewers have said that 'Life of Pi' makes the reader believe in the existence of God. I did not find this to be so, and I was disappointed. Pi is pious, for sure, and has plenty to say about God. His survival might seem divine at first, but this fades as his hardship increases. In the end I was uplifted not by the 'existence of God', but by the concept of the flexibility of truth, and the way in which memory's fallibility makes all stories true. These are the thought patterns of tribal people, 'magical thinkers', 'dream-time' inhabitants, like Pi. So in the end, Pi is an affirmation of the uncertain, fluid, dream-like nature of man. This might be (in magical terms) the 'breath of divinity', but is not any confirmation of God. Pity.
I would recommend this audiobook - it is long, and at times wanders, but your patience will be rewarded.
The audiobook of the Maltese Falcon exceeded my expectations. It was richer, and more detailed than the movie (in which Bogie played Sam Spade). The femme fatale is wonderfully portrayed, as is the treacherous Joel Cairo. This is the first time I have heard an American reader carry off multiple voices and characters. Usually the 'dipthong drift' which characterises Amer-English makes the voices too whiney and insubstantial when compared, for example, with Richard Burton or Derek Jacobi. But this book is the exception. The voice of Cairo (Peter Lorrie in the movie) is delightful, as if the actor himself, dead all these years, had come back.
Listening to the audiobook also made me realise how much 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit ?' owed to the book, rather than the movie. The mental images created are very strong in this novel, the characters so stereotypical or 'characaturised' as to be almost cartoonish, but in an entertaining way, and in a style which reflected the 1940's I suppose.
This might be the best audiobook I have heard so far. Strongly recommended, but you do have to pay attention !
Quite a good audiobook. A well developed plot, always interesting if somewhat linear, and some good twists to jolt the antennae. Well read, except for the irritating and whiney voice of Val.
The science was lamentable. We are asked to accept the premises of relativistic time compression AND faster-than-light communication in the same book. Please, we are not idiots ! Also, there is the problem of trying to imagine what environmental pressure would lead the aliens to evolve faster-than-light telepathic communication ?? At least it answered a few nagging concerns about 'Starship Troopers'. The author also wisely avoids describing how the humans'weapons of mass destruction operate - they would seem to defy all known laws of time and space, even string theory.
Science fiction is not supposed to follow good science, I know, but to predict it. Don't get your hopes up about this one, kiddies.
The other aspect of this book which is impossible to ignore is the unrelenting cruelty to children. To boil the plot down to a few words - if you place children under intense psychological pressure, even mental torture, isolation, deprivation, then you will create genius. The good of humanity depends upon cruelty to the individual. Perhaps this is a bit of a parody of Spock, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the One" It made me wonder what sort of a childhood the author had ?
At the end of the book, however, I am keen to listen to the rest of the series which, I suppose, is the best sort of recommendation.
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