This fine novel is by turns tough and very soft. Although it is unsentimental about what a recently widowed woman may feel (or not feel) for her grown children, it is very soft in its presentation of a seductive dream vision of old age. Perhaps it is mostly about an 88-year-old wife and mother (her husband was both Viceroy to India and the British Prime Minister) discovering, finally, what it is to be single. It is good for her, this liberating final voyage. Many fine touches on Lady Slane’s relationship with her children, with her lifelong maid Genoux, with late-achieved privacy, with unexpected new friends, with her soul-mate great-granddaughter, and with an old man who appears after fifty years and tells her that they met in India when they both were very young. The reading by a herself elderly Wendy Hiller (Shaw’s original PYGMALION in her youth) could not be surpassed. So far I have recommended this book (three print readings, three Audibles) to six friends. All have made a special point of thanking me.
This novel is unlike anything else produced by Henry James – and if you are at all interested, take care NOT to read a word about the novel anywhere, for almost every online account or mention (and every book back cover) gives away a tremendously important detail that should be held for the reading itself. The Other House is Henry James getting as close to Agatha Christie, eerily close (she was six when this book was published in 1896), as could be possible for him – and it is indeed that kind of tale, with a far stranger and more disturbing ending than anything she ever wrote. Certainly this is not the “first” or even second James anyone should read, but some of the customary signs of fine consciousness are there -- which many people like and some people hate. The subtle interchange of hyper-subtle points in conversation (no “real” people could ever catch the hints offered so delicately by someone else sanding before them). has nothing to do with the Twitter generation. These people are a different species and full citizens of the James universe, even if they live on his oddest planet. This is a genuine page-turner and perhaps not that much more than a pot-boiler -- you decide. It gives nothing away to say that critical comparisons with Ibsen are probably silly, and yet this book does have a strange northern chill. As far as the narrator Graeme Malcolm. He does a fantastic job, as he always does. If at first his frequent pauses seem too frequent, you get used to them soon and then you understand that they do wonders to help the listener follow Henry James famously winding sentences and geometrically multiplied clauses. There is not an ounce of prissiness in Malcolm's readings ever, and it is great to have a Henry James read as he reads it. It would be a fine thing to hear him do The Golden Bowl or The Wings of the Dove, books that are fleshier, even earthier than many think.
I dislike this kind of fiction, here a play on a famous Arthur Conan Doyle novel. Yes, I guessed the ending long before it hit -- and when it hit it struck me as in the vein of a Rod Sterling TWILIGHT ZONE episode, where everything flips in the last uttered word. That kind of "plot" worked for me when I was a kid, but that was gimmick excitement and little more. None of the infinite careful loving detail of the real inventor of Sherlock Holmes, who really is so iconic that it is hard to imagine a universe without him and his equally iconic friend, Dr. Watson. Nothing fresh here, however, except a neat twist, just when you expect it most.
I read Lord Jim twenty years ago and recalled its difficulty more than its greatness. This time around the reading experience was transfixing. I am one of those readers, not so rare, who does not mind if things go very slow and get even, uh, 'boring"; for a great book has the privilege of slowing time down, and down, so we can catch all that goes on in life, before a finger snaps and it is over, as in the case in our normal days. The first half of the novel, a nearly inactive unlayering, bit by bit, of Jim's consciousness, is as brilliant as fiction can be. Marlowe's intense attention to Jim's moral pain, or what he guesses to be Jim's moral pain, is a genuine adventure and the work of genius. Oddly enough, when the book moves toward "real" action toward the end, and things get physically hot and exciting (with the entrance of Mr. Brown and others), the force of the book may falter (it does to me). So, here it is, a book as vital as they come, if you take pleasure in the path of thought and the winding turns of human consciousness; and then it is a book that slows down when guns go off and cinema takes over. The stunning reading by the narrator is one in a million. No one could do Conrad better. Nigel Graham, who has recorded only a few books, sounds like a man of the kind of world Conrad knew. No frills, no games, a solid and heavily masculine reading; and a sense that if this man -- Nigel Graham -- stood next to you under an awning during a storm, he would intimidate you and maybe scare you. A genuinely great reading that is miles above other versions I have sampled -- including the good one by John Lee. Lord Jim -- one of the great novels, and, yes, Conrad, did not start learning English until he was in his twenties. That fact makes a great book a miraculous one -- and should make us recognize what lame slackers we are.
My review goes against the ecstatic judgment of the crowd. The vastly popular and nearly ubiquitous Simon Vance/Robert Whitfield (the same man) strikes me as among the most tiresome readers out there. I find this so in large part because of the generic 'extra' emotion he inserts and sometimes slathers all over the place in whatever he reads -- without sufficient sensitivity to the genuine subtleties of any text. To me it sounds like sight-reading much of the time, highly practiced, very smooth, applause-gaining quite professional sight-reading, but I want way better than that. Or at least I do not want to be distracted. If Vance/Whitfield were to read aloud that "two bridges cross the river, one to the north and one to south," his voice would rise and fall and rise, for his habit is to offer a three-act play when none is wanted. His voice is a pleased, singing voice and not a speaking one, and dulcet tones which aim to impress finally get on your, or my, nerves. A matter of taste, yes. Some people hate Fred Williams' profoundly respectful and ultimately magnificent reading of THE FORSYTE SAGA. He is a reader with no singing tones in him (few Forsytes would ever sing, anyway) and he has no tricks at all, except for deep respect and perhaps love for his text, which, I bet, he knows by heart in places. Or try Eileen Atkins's MILL ON THE FLOSS for a supremely intelligent reading that inflicts no dazzle. As far as OUR MUTUAL FRIEND, I spent $38.47 (I am not yet a subscriber) on a reading I could not endure -- and then I went to the David Timson narration (also on Audible), which is good, so good that much of the time you forget the reader completely, which is how some people like it.
Eileen Atkin gives a profoundly moving, flawless, and deeply intelligent reading of Eliot's great novel. Atkins is not a ventriloquist who tortures out different voices for each character (her men and women have subtly different inflections, but there is no trilling for the girls or hurrumphing for the men -- as there is with some narrators), but nonetheless you always understand the different souls behind each utterance as you overhear this masterful reading. This reading is a close as it gets to a sensitive movement of eyes on a page by a mature reader. One of the five or six greatest novels I have read (to my mind superior to MIDDLEMARCH), and yes Eliot takes some wild chances and, to my mind, gets away with them. Some find the initial part, on the childhood of Maggie, somewhat drawn out -- but give it a chance as her moral consciousness grows.
I hope someone will re-do this book (unabridged) with a reader who has some of the fire, passion, muscle, and keen intelligence of the young Darwin. David Case's Wodehousian primness has no place in such a universe as that of Darwin's natural and often deeply human world.
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