Tampa, FL, United States | Member Since 2006
As William Gibson says, "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed", and it's hard to think of another time and place in history when this doesn't seem more true than the turn of the 19th century.
Fever is not only a fascinating snapshot of the seismic demographic and technological shifts that took place during the late 19th and early 20th century, but is also a truly compelling--and at times almost heartbreakingly tragic--story about a woman who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in history.
Because it becomes clear early on that "Typhoid Mary" was by no means the only one unwittingly spreading the typhoid bacteria around New York City and Long Island.
What made her so special was her profession as a private cook in a modern city, where it wasn't unusual for well-to-do families to hire their help as needed through reputable agencies, and where it wasn't unusual for a cook to work for a series of different employers over the years. And it also wasn't usual for an otherwise meticulous and starchy-clean servant to not make a point of washing her hands after using the bathroom or before preparing food.
Which seems so counter-intuitive today, but even though germ theory and the study of how bacteria and disease was spread were already well-developed fields among academics and scientists --I'm pretty sure Dr. Lister invented his antibacterial Listerine back around 1870? -- for some reason the whole concept of washing hands and sanitizing kitchens hadn't yet trickled down to the immigrant and working classes, even though they a were largely literate population. Like the future, such ideas were obviously not yet universally distributed.
Which was one of the reasons it was so so hard for Mary to believe it was anything but pure coincidence that so many she'd cooked for over the years got sick. Sure, people around her got fevers and some of them even died--where does that not happen? (In Ireland they called that Tuesday, ba dump bump) Throw in some all-too human defense mechanisms and guilt-borne denial (all brilliantly unfolded by the author) and you have a walking time bomb.
Which brings me to what I think made this book such a winner for me--the historical details alone would have been enough to keep me engaged, but Keane's character portrayal of Mary felt so authentic that I had to keep reminding myself this is historical fiction, not non-fiction. (Meticulously researched, no doubt--but much conjecture nonetheless.) Add to that the dramatic tension created by the two men in her life: the Javert-like Dr. Soper, and Alfred, the no-good bum she just can't stop lovin'--and it starts to read like a darned good screenplay.
I have to admit that I wasn't sure about the narrator at first; she started off a bit stiff and rote, with only a barely discernible Irish accent for Mary. But as Mary warmed and opened up to us, so did the passion in the narration. Whether this was a deliberate strategy or just a matter of Thaxton finding her rhythm I'm not sure, but either way it totally works.
Oh, and be forewarned: You'll probably be Googling throughout the book--for images of Mary and Dr. Soper, maps of the East River, the history of typhoid fever--just to name a few--so make sure you have access to an connected device before you start listening!
To me, this book was one-third fashion memoir, one-third shopping advice, and one-third personal-evolution confessional.
Although I came for the fashion and shopping dish, it was actually Halbreich's personal story that resonated with me the most.
She grew up pampered and privileged, married a fairytale Prince Charming, but (surprise!) didn't live happily ever after. Following the familiar mid-century trajectory, by the early 70's her marriage was over and she was figuring things out with the help of a therapist.
It was the job at Bergdorf's that resurrected her sense of self back then, and there's no question it's still what keeps her so sharp and relevant at 87 years old.
If you're a fashion addict, fashion historian, aspiring designer--or all of the above--you really can't pass up this detailed, name-dropping, autobiographical romp through 20th century fashion design.
There are also some interesting insights into how merchandise in stores like Bergdorf's is manipulated and hidden from regular customers by commissioned salespeople who "hide and hold" prime sale items for their best customers or themselves. (If you really want the best selection in your size, shop a week or two after a big sale or promotion, when everything "on hold" gets returned to the racks.)
And if you're trying to decide between the print and Audible version of this book, let me tell you: Jane Curtin SO perfectly channels Betty (whom you can watch on several video clips on the web) that the Audible' version's a no-brainer.
I'm guessing Curtin narrated this because she knows Betty personally (she was quoted as a client in Halbreich's first book), but she is also such a pleasure to listen to--I'm seriously in love with her accent and diction-- that I hope she narrates many more books in the future.
With all the advanced hype for this book, I was expecting something more sweeping and detailed than this--more like The Goldfinch or The Signature of All Things. I'd pre-ordered so I didn't know it was only 7.5 hours, which, of course, means this a much smaller, tighter novel--despite it's 30+ year timespan and historical setting.
Even so, I assumed it would at least grab me from the beginning, which it definitely didn't.
Yes, the prose is arresting and interesting and full of beautiful phrases, but Edoardo Ballerini's almost singsong pronouncement of every sentence of part 1 (which is almost all narration and inner monologue) made the writing sound almost ridiculously pretentious at times. But maybe I was just feeling a little duped by all the press surrounding this debut novel.
Or maybe it just took me a while to get into the rhythm of the book.
Whatever the reason, once I started part 2 (there are 3 parts) I was hooked. And once Ballerini got some dialogue and deeper character development to sink his teeth into, he was excellent. And although the book is about grief and suffering, it--like all really good fiction--ultimately makes you feel closer to what it means to be alive and human, if that makes sense.
As for the historical aspect, the Revolutionary War setting is more or less just background to what amounts to a story about the personal interactions between a handful of people in that place at that time. The few period details that are included are meticulously chosen and never gratuitous, but there are nonetheless some nice history-nerd-worthy passages, particularly regarding textiles: bolts of silk with floral vine patterns, a packet of yellow thread, and women at a soldier's tea reflexively smoothing their stomachers.
If I had to compare this with another novel, I would say it's reminiscent of Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. Different war and different type of plot (Cold Mountain is more of a quest/journey thing) but similar elegant writing styles that evoke a very specific region and place in American history, as well as equally memorable characters.
This was my first exposure to Martin Amis--I'd seen a couple of references by literary types who'd cited this as one of the top 50 or 100--or whatever--novels of the late 20th century.
For the close listener, this is definitely a very satisfying, dense work of fiction by a very talented and original writer. And for all its literary merits, it's a surprisingly entertaining and engaging listen.
Written in 1989 and set in 1999, parts of the book admittedly have a somewhat dated feel. The digressions on pornography and masturbation, for instance--which at the time of publication were still viewed as quite modern and "raw"--seem almost quaint by today's standards.
Yet other things, like Keith Talent's obsession with TV and video (and even his being featured in an early version of reality TV) are oddly prescient considering their pre-internet context.
But be prepared to rewind; Amis doesn't spell anything out, and there are enough soliloquies and extended rants (after all, this is 21+ hour download) for you to drift off and miss an essential character detail or plot point.
Fortunately for such a long book, the audio narration is unbelievably good. Pacey's American accent as the New York-born narrator Samson Young is almost flawless (think a smarter/sarcastic Regis Philbin) although he does give himself away with certain pronunciations (i.e., he pronounces urinal as "yurINEnal" instead of "YURinal", or calf as "koff" instead of "kaff"). But I have yet to hear an English narrator master a totally perfect American accent, so that's a pretty small quibble...
And it's worth having an English actor reading the novel because where he really shines is in his portrayal of East-ender Keith Talent. As such, this performance alone is worth the audio download, innit?
I just learned that a 2014 movie version of this is scheduled for release this fall. I have my doubts that a film adaptation could successfully capture the scope and appeal of the novel, but who knows?
As a transplant to Florida, I've long been familiar with the Railroad Baron narrative of Florida's post-Jacksonville development, which pretty much ignores the fact that non-native Americans were already migrating here long before Flagler and Plant (incentivized by government subsidies and competitive zeal) built their railways and snowbird resorts.
So I found this book to be a welcome and well-researched history of the early Florida settlers who populated the central and rural parts of Florida that most people outside of the state don't ever see. (With the exception of Disney World, of course, which would have been in development as this story ends in 1968).
It's also a nice depiction of American pioneer/frontier life in the mid-to-late 1800's, which we sometimes forget wasn't just a westward thing.
But if you're not particularly interested in Florida, Florida history, or pioneer/frontier fiction, there's not a lot of complexity to this story.
On the plus side, it's an excellent family PG listen--the characters are inspiring and morally admirable (unless they're totally despicable--there's no in-between in this novel). But that's also the downside--this is a classic man v. nature plot, and in this case nature turns out to be much more interesting and unpredictable than the man.
In fact, the MacIveys are dead-ringers for the denizens of Lake Wobegon (all of the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average). The Seminole Indians are consistently wise and other-worldy, with a wonderful habit of appearing at really convenient times. And the depiction of the African-American Skittle feels somehow racist by modern standards as well, although it probably is more historically accurate than Tobias MacIvey's enlightened attitude towards him. (Isn't it amazing how every historical character created in modern popular fiction is always the ONE person in their community who bravely stands up against racial segregation?)
But the action and dialogue are compelling, and Smith definitely knows how to tell a story.
Paired with George Guidall's always-perfect narration, this is an enlightening and entertaining listen, especially if you're driving or walking in Florida.
I would never buy a bag of Doritos, but if someone opened one and handed it to me and I was hungry, I would eat one or two. And then, because they're Doritos, I'd eat a ton more.
And so it was with this book. I downloaded it based on a flashy Audible top banner promo, thinking it would be smart and sparkly Brit lit. I only later realized I was in the middle of yet another tired Jane Austen retread.
This novel is a pleasant listen and the plot is skillfully rendered, but it's definitely beach-read/escapist/guilty pleasure material.
Warning: Listening to this book will compel you to buy/download more books!
Listening to this one is like being in your favorite literature/writing class in college...only there are so many books covered here your college courses surely never covered them all.
Prose's analysis and observations only make you thirst for the original text, which is why I recently ordered the "Tales of Chekov" print set and downloaded Stephen Fry's narration of selected Chekov stories.
This is a skillfully-written slip of a story, carefully stuffed with semi-obscure literary references and allusions (don't worry--the author spells them all out for you, you dumb --er, I mean Dear-- Reader).
The narrator/protagonist Lena is likable because she's like what all us close readers imagine ourselves to be: intellectual, introverted, full of quotes from stuff we read and memorized, but also super-sexy and rebellious on the inside.
Rowland uses such fresh language and narration that, prose-wise there's not a cliche to be found anywhere-- until you get to the basic plot, which is so predictable and corny we have to ask ourselves if it's an ironic literary device, because, seriously, are you kidding me?
But overall this was a pleasurable listen for me--but then I like New Yorker short stories a lot.
And Xe Sands narrates this in just the voice I would conjure for Lena--she's well-cast and delivers brilliantly.
Whatever the format, this is a delightfully well- crafted novel, seen through the lens of an 11 year old male Scottish narrator. But Simon Vance's performance puts this Audible version into a whole 'nother category of great.
It's funny and touching and wholly satisfying. A truly entertaining listen and totally worth the download!
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!
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