I rarely give up on a book -- some strange sense of obligation drives me to finish it, even if I'm not enjoying it. For this book, I made an exception. After five hours, I just couldn't justify throwing more good time after bad, so I deleted the book from my iPod.
I suspect it was mainly a genre problem. Not that I could tell you, exactly, what genre this book falls in, but whatever metaphysical problems he was setting up, I just couldn't begin to be interested in them. This book was just relentlessly tedious to me. I gave it two stars because I'm willing to consider the possibility that the book isn't badly written, it's just a bad fit for me. Let me suggest that if you listen to the audio clip and think, "I have no idea why anyone would care about what he's describing," trust your instincts and move on!
A HUGE chunk of this book is about the author's family and her mother's death -- it takes her a surprisingly long time to even reach the trail. So if you're expecting a wilderness adventure along the lines of a Jon Krakauer book, this probably isn't what you're looking for.
For me, it was hard to forgive Cheryl Strayed for how blindly and naively she approached this dangerous journey. She really had no business getting on that trail in the first place, and having to listen to her fumbling around trying to get her footing for hour after hour sometimes made me want to shake her. But ultimately, there were some interesting moments and insights that partly made up for it.
I largely enjoyed the book, mostly because I liked the main character's voice -- his way of seeing and describing things. My main issue with the book is that it started to seem like a checklist of everything that can go wrong in adolescence. But for the most part, it was a pleasant ride, and the narrator was very good. By the way, I strongly discourage you from renting the movie after reading the book. It feels very thin by comparison.
Everyone in my book group was excited for this one, because the subject seemed so interesting. The problem is, in spite of how much was going on in the world at this time, NOTHING happens in the book. The people the author chooses to focus on are ultimately inconsequential and do nothing of consequence. So to try to make up for his protagonists' lack of importance, he includes vast amounts of detail and dozens of characters, few of whom end up being relevant or even particularly interesting. The book could have been half as long if the author had just focused on things that were actually important, instead of providing detailed descriptions of the weather, or a complete listing of every item in the ambassador's china cabinet (particularly grueling in an audiobook, where you can't skim).
Also irritating is the author's tendency to try to create suspense by ending every chapter with a portentous cliff-hanger-y tease: "Had they known at the time what was to come, they might have felt differently about it..." You can almost here the corny "Dunh dunh DUUNNNNNHH" sound cue. Really amateurish.
Many of the stories in this book are fascinating (especially the section that deals with the casting process, rehearsals and shooting of The Outsiders). It's just a really fun, gossipy insider's look at the industry and growing up famous, and Lowe is so funny, smart and insightful about himself that you are happy to be in his company for the duration.
And he does a surprisingly good Chris Walken impression!
While Daphne Sheldrick undoubtedly led a fascinating life in Africa, this is not a fascinating book. It has the feel of a book that she started writing for her children, and then someone persuaded her to publish it for a general audience, but without eliminating the details that only a family member could find interesting. It is chock full of overly long, banal descriptions, repetitive observations and minor characters who come and go without contributing anything of significance. Every time a major life shift is going to happen, it is telegraphed so obviously that by the time it actually happens you're thinking, "just GET ON WITH IT, already!"
Dame Sheldrick also seems to lack any sense of perspective about things like colonialism and animal welfare. Her views are, understandably, rooted in her era, but several decades on she seems not to have gained any nuance in her point of view, or any sense of the larger societal issues that were at play and which contributed to the complexity of her situation. So she's really not contributing anything new to the literature of that time and place. She isn't one for enlightening analysis, favoring instead a worldview based on sentiment. For instance, she clearly thinks of herself as the "mother" of all these orphaned animals, and she frequently talks about how attached they are to her. But she seems to act primarily with her heart rather than her head, which makes her actions often seem capricious and poorly thought out, and perhaps not in the best interests of these animals she's so interested in protecting.
The narrator of the book contributes to the problem by reading the most sentimental lines in a tremulous whisper, which just emphasizes how amateurish and repetitive the writing is. In addition, she mispronounces words frequently. At first, I attributed this to differences between US and British pronunciation, but then she pronounced the word "geyser" first as "gazer" and then as "geezer" and I decided it was her, not me.
I should mention that the preface to the book is riveting -- if the rest of the book were like this, I would have been far more interested in it. As it is, with three more hours to slog through before my book club meeting, I'm seriously contemplating skipping the rest of it. I'd rate this one a complete waste of time.
Many sections of this book are really funny, but a few felt like they needed more shaping or something. Overall, Ms. Fey's performance is delightful, but I have one major quibble: I wish someone in the recording studio had told her that every time she drops her voice down low to mutter a funny little aside (a technique that she uses constantly throughout the book), she's making it impossible for someone listening on their iPod to hear the punch line. I can't tell you how many times I had to rewind, dial up the volume and play it again. The lines were almost always worth it, but it was a little annoying. Other than that, good fun -- a great book to make going to the gym less of a chore!
I am stunned to see how many commenters liked this narrator. I very nearly stopped listening because I hated his female character voices so much. They all sound like the different ages of Paul Lynde. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy Paul Lynde as much as the next girl, and maybe there are even some women out there who actually sound like that. But when our heroine (a highly-educated student of Victorian literature) and her extremely well-bred and proper mother, and her college roommates, and every other woman she knows sounds like some variant on Paul Lynde, there's a problem.
I don't love this narrator's male voices either, to be honest -- way too many of them sounded like sort of dim surfer dudes to me. But his women were truly deplorable.
As for the book, I will start by saying that I, too, really enjoyed Middlesex (a male narrator, BTW, who did WONDERFUL voices for all characters, male and female). This book was not as consistently rewarding (to me) as Middlesex was. I think Eugenides' editor should have urged him to tighten up some of the sections dedicated to literary theory and the protagonists' college seminars. These sections felt self-indulgent to me, as though the author was trying to establish his smartypants cred. I think whatever plot or character development they fueled could still have been achieved in far fewer words.
Despite this, I eventually came to be interested in all three of the protagonists, and by the end of the book I was invested in their thoughts, lives and choices. So ultimately, I'm glad I stuck with it.
Obviously a lot of people loved this book, which is why we chose it for our book group meeting. I can't help noticing that the range of opinions among the members of my book group is not reflected by the overwhelmingly positive reviews on Audible. In our group, two people liked the book a lot. One person thought it was totally pointless and not well written. One person thought it was basically a trashy beach read, and shouldn't be held to the standards of literature. And one person (that would be me) thought it was sloppily conceived, plotted and written, and that the narrator character was completely lacking in plausibility (not because he was a dog, but because the things he knew and thought are simply not believable for a character whose education consisted entirely of watching TV and hearing his owner talk about car racing). In case you're wondering, I love dogs and I have no issue with non-traditional narrators. I just didn't think the author did the work necessary to make me believe in this narrator, and the end result was that I didn't believe in or care about any of the characters. Boo.
By the time the book reached its ending, I finally felt some attachment to and interest in these characters, but BOY it took a long time to get there. And along the way, there were so many episodes that just seemed pointless or not believable. The characters all seem like ciphers for the first 3/4 of the book. We are told repeatedly how intelligent the female lead is, while seeing very little in her words or actions to support this description.
It also didn't help that I LOATHED David leDoux's rendering of the female characters' voices. It made it really difficult to separate out the character from the performance, and I kept wondering whether Patty herself was so irritating, or whether it was just his interpretation that was skewing my perception.
I was surprised to learn that I had recently listened to another book that he had narrated (Water for Elephants) and I found his reading very good on that recording. So maybe it really is Franzen with whom I should find fault.
In any case, portraying a young Indian woman is well outside of LeDoux's range, and made for some really uncomfortable listening. Perhaps it might have been better to hire a female narrator for this book, given that the first-person segments are pretty much all written in a woman's voice.
So I really can't recommend this recording. As for the book? Eh.
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