Tampa, FL, United States | Member Since 2006
I consume a lot of audiobooks and realized I'd only been reviewing books that I felt were worth the commentary, and had been ignoring the ones I'm kind of embarrassed about.
Which is a disservice to other members who, like me, often rely on reviews to help me decide what to download.
In my younger years I was fascinated with NDE's, and a recent experience a friend told me about made me want to revisit the literature to see what was new. Alexander's account looked promising, so I downloaded it on a whim.
It's interesting enough, but nothing distinguishes it from other NDE's--his claim that his brain was dead has been refuted and the truth is, he could have experienced everything during his reboot when he came out of his coma. And the fact that he calls himself a neuroscientist throughout the book (surgeons and scientists are two very different things in my mind) also put me off. There is nothing in this book that remotely "proves" there is an afterlife.
So while I would love to believe his account and hope it's true, I can't recommend this book to anyone who is seriously searching for answers.
I bought the Picador set of the Patrick Melrose novels on Amazon a year or so ago but only got around to reading the first volume a couple of months ago. I got hooked enough to check if there was an Audible version and...so there was.
If you're considering this download it's important to understand that this series isn't "about" the modern English aristocracy, although the setting--and some of the characters--will definitely please hardcore anglophiles.
What it IS about is one person's struggle to accept and overcome his inheritance-- in every sense of the word.
So if you're looking for a "fun glimpse" into the contemporary English upper classes, this probably isn't your cup of tea.
But if you recognize from the outset the superb quality of this writing--you'll know because you'll be rewinding and bookmarking constantly--you will thoroughly enjoy this exquisite compilation and Patrick Melrose's evolution through life's phases and milestones.
Throughout, St. Aubyn has a delicious--almost Oscar Wildean-- way of distilling profound human realities into snappy literary soundbites; here is a sampling of my favorites:
"At the beginning, there had been talk of using some of [my mother's] money to start a home for alcoholics. In a sense they had succeeded."
"One of the troubles with being an infant was the difficulty of distinguishing incompetence from malice.."
"At his age he either had to join the resistance or become a collaborator with death..."
The only reason I gave the performance 4 stars was because, as mentioned in a previous review, Alex Jennings is perfection when it comes to every English language accent EXCEPT American ones. It truly mars an otherwise flawless performance, and should in no way deter you from downloading the book--just be prepared, if you are American, to cringe when the (thankfully rare) American characters speak!
A sensational true crime story, historical anecdotes, weird facts and celebrity scoops--all from the year 1922--what more could an American history nerd want?
Add to that an insightful re-examination of The Great Gatsby in the context of these things, and you have a fascinating account of the height of the Jazz Age, and why F. Scott Fitzgerald captured its zeitgeist so perfectly that most contemporary critics dismissed the novel as being too "of the moment" to have any lasting resonance.
I'm not an American Lit scholar and it had been years since I'd re-read The Great Gatsby, so I can only judge this book from a lay reader's perspective, but I found it to be a true pleasure from start to finish.
While it's true that the overlying theme of this book--namely the exploration of the connection between the much-publicized Hall-Mills double-murder and how it informed the plot of Gatsby--becomes a little heavy-handed at times, at the very least it functions as a tidy framework for Churchwell to organize her narrative, allowing her to deftly zoom in and out between the Fitzgerald’s insular world and the bigger world around them.
The murder case, along with other news stories and commentaries Churchwell culls from that year, reinforces how truly modern Fitzgerald’s novels were. Vehicular homicides, “publicity hounds”, public intoxication, trial by the press, “spicy” poplular novels romanticizing infidelity--not to mention the unprecedented liberation of women on every front--were all still alarming new trends, the symptoms of a world turned upside-down and inside-out by rapid technical change and the Great War. The reckless behavior of both the Gatsby characters and the-real life Fitzgeralds reflected a national identity crisis that, arguably, we’re still trying to resolve.
It was fun to revisit the novel and be reminded of why no movie adaptation has been able--and probably never will be--to capture it's underlying brilliance.
Last but not least, Kate Reading's silky-smooth narration is a true delight--her reading of Zelda's voice is particularly mesmerizing--and the production is flawless. I will definitely be actively be seeking more of Reading's performances!
Arguably the most interesting thing about this book is how polarized the listener reviews are...people either liked/loved the book, or were truly bored and annoyed with everything about it.
So if you're considering whether or not to download this, you need to figure out into which camp you fall.
To help you, I've constructed the following handy quiz:
John Cheever was:
b: a pretentious asshole
a: tragically anachronistic self-identified delusional isolationists
b: pretentious assholes
c: scary poisonous insects
I plan to listen to this book:
a: on the beach half-drunk
b: commuting on a shitty subway train while my pretentious asshole boss is at the beach probably half-drunk
c: what do you mean by plan?
In a book about a family with issues, an exploding dead whale is:
a: a finely-crafted literary representation of building family resentments
b a ridiculously obvious metaphor for a bunch of pretentious assholes
c: super gross
When if comes to Audible narrators, I prefer
a: whomever fits the tone of the book best
b: whomever feels like a comfortable old shoe and isn't a pretentious asshole
c: someone who doesn't sound like my rabbi
I identify with characters who:
a: are revealed slowly and have interesting backstories
b: get my interest and sympathy right away and don't bore me to sleep
c: exhibit poor judgement
ANSWER KEY: If you had mostly a's or c's, you will probably like this book, but if you had any b answers, this probably isn't your cup of tea.
A note on the narration: I think Arthur Morey--much as I love him--was seriously miscast here. His narration isn't waspy enough to be the voice of Winn (sorry but there's just too much New York Borough/LES in his diction) and his substandard raspy-lispy-falsetto female voices don't contribute much to a novel in which most of the characters are, in fact, female.
I'm not in the biz but for what it's worth if I could cast any narrator for this it would be Dylan Baker....
If anyone can poke fun at contemporary literature and the machinations behind one of its major prizes, it's Edward St. Aubyn.
His send-ups of the various gimmicky sub-genres that seem to be perennial fixtures on literary "buzz" lists are laugh-out-loud funny, perhaps made all the more so by Alex Jennings's spot-on reading of the affectedly authentic narratives (which range from a gutteral Irwin Welsh-style Scottish to a wincingly stagey Elizabethan English).
Indeed, far as the narration goes, it's hard to imagine that reading the print version of the book could be nearly as enjoyable as hearing Jenning's portrayal of Sonny Bunjee, the delusional Brahmin snob, or of the French intellectual Didiot, with his non-sequitur rants and comically formulaic writing process.
In fact, all of Jennings's character's accents are exquisite except the American ones, which are such a weird mashup of regional accents--flattened midwestern/ rounded southern vowels, hyper-rhotacization and dropped word endings--that it's almost uncanny how alien it is to any actual existing American speech pattern.
Fortunately the two American characters in the novel appear only very briefly, but when they do, the listening is painful enough to be a noticeable departure from an otherwise flawless performance, which was the only thing that kept me from giving it 5 stars. (Of course this is a completely US-centric opinion--Jennings's Indian and Scottish accents could be just as inaccurate to their native's ears--but there you have it.)
Compared to the rest St. Aubyn's work, this little book is mostly just silly fun--you certainly won't find more than the occasional glimpse of the depth and subtlety of the Patrick Melrose novels. But St. Aubyn Lite is still, well, St. Aubyn--no less brilliantly tight and crisp for the subject matter. And there's enough underlying commentary about art is and how it's recognized (i.e. a work of great art should, by definition, be original enough to defy the kind of comparison that an art award/competition requires) to give some welcome substance to the satire.
On the whole, I love the premise and execution of this story--the details and historical context were a true pleasure from beginning to end. And, much as I hate to admit it (I'm one of those Eat, Pray, Love eye-rollers), the overall message was pretty inspiring.
The only thing that bothered me was--excellent as Juliet Stevenson is--why this book was narrated in a British accent. Stevenson's Dutch accents are wonderful, but her American accents seemed all wrong for the period--flat and nasal when educated northeastern Americans like Alma, Prudence, Retta and Ambrose in the early- to late-1800's would arguably have sounded more British than the weird regional twang Stevenson was channeling.
I'm being very picky here because Stevenson is such a pro--this is definitely not a huge issue with this book, because the actual dialogue-to-narrative ratio is actually pretty miniscule, but this is an ambitious novel and the heroine and setting are distinctly American, so I definitely felt a little dissonance whenever the native-born American characters started talking.
For the merits of the book, read the print reviews...(count me as one who liked the ending) As for the Audible version, Candace Thaxton's narration is flawless--to the point that I forgot that Mary Bee and Briggs were being read by the same person.
Two caveats for anyone considering this audio book:
1) If you don't have a particular interest in New York City history and/or the Jazz Age/Prohibition era, the story alone might not be enough to keep your interest. For me, much of the pleasure from this book was derived from the setting and the notorious cast of real-life characters.
2) The story is told out of chronological sequence, so you'll need to pay attention to the month and day at the beginning of each chapter. (I wish I'd realized this from the start--it's easy to miss at first when listening instead of seeing the chapter headings in print.)
Overall, Ariel Lawhon weaves a nice narrative and Ann Marie Lee does a masterful job of bringing the characters to life, especially Stella Crater and Sally Lou Ritz. (The transition from the cut-glass elegance of Stella to the street-smart showgirl of Sally is truly impressive!)
The time-shifting narrative is a little hokey and clunky at times but on the whole I think it was effective in making the progression of the story more interesting.
And Lawhon's final reveal, while highly improbable, is still satisfying enough for me to hope it's actually true!
Audible narration is perfectly suited to Lamb's confessional/therapy session style, especially when the characters are read by seasoned actors and established audible narrators. And that includes the author, as Orion Oh, who is no stranger to book readings and narration.
If you've scrolled down this far you already know the book is good; it will hook you from the start, plunge you into some pretty bumpy uncomfortable territory, but will ultimitely leave you feeling uplifted and healed.
Is it Lamb's best? Probably not, but if you've read the others already and are in the mood to get immersed in a long, leisurely listen, you've come to the right book!
...But I did. The story is engaging and fairly well-crafted. Not seamless---there are some rough patches--but overall a very satisfying listener experience. You will be entranced!
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.