Pat Barker captures the devastating effects of the First World War on those in the front lines. Her vivid and insightful descriptions of the suffering of the survivors and, in this volume, doctors in a military hospital treating their psychological scars, are deeply moving. The device of including real historical figures such as Siegfried Sassoon, Dr. William Rivers and Wilfrid Owen heightens the realism. The articulate internal and external debates about the morality of fighting a disastrous war with no clearly defined ultimate goal or competent strategy makes the story oh, so relevant to contemporary readers.
I was charmed by this book. The narrator perfectly captured the pace of Southern life during the decades covered by the story. His narration added to the extensive character development that sets the tale apart from more plot-driven mysteries. Deathless prose it's not, but story and narration made me care about the characters and I was always eager to listen.
I am a great fan of Dickens, Trollope and other authors of the lengthy Victorian novel. I looked forward to listening through the many hours of this classic early 'detective' novel. Unfortunately, it took much determination to slog through to the end. While there are many positive aspects of the book: the period detail, the amusing satires, especially that effected through the perceptions of Miss Clack. The running 'Robinson Crusoe' joke continued to amuse almost to the end. Sergeant Cuff is someone I'd love to meet again. But my goodness, the almost endless series of individual narratives with their inevitable repetitions was, to me, a torture. Even if one heard this story read out over a series of (many, many!) evenings in the family circle gathered around the fire, I think it would tax the patience of most listeners. In the case of this recording, the doling out of the various narratives to several different readers was a good idea. It did relieve some of the tedium of listening. Unfortunately, these narrators never seemed to have met, because the individual voices do not match from narrative to narrative (For example, Sergeant Cuff's voice is markedly different when interpreted by the various readers.)
Overall, I would only recommend this recording to a listener who had some academic research motive in knowing the story.
There were two very distracting elements to the audio version. One is the narrator's unskillful way of using a quirky vocal habit when reading almost every question used in dialogue. It might have been good if this stylistic trick were restricted to just one character, but when the identical intonation is used for every voice in the story it became more than annoying. I found myself bracing for every spoken question and even then it made me flinch. The second was probably the fault of the editing. In transitions of time/place/character, where in a written text the reader is cued by a break of several lines or some other visual indicator, the recorded version has no such clue. One finds oneself, startled and confused by the sudden appearance of a character who is miles away, only to realize that the scene has changed with nothing to indicate it. Then the reader has to make a mental shift and play catch-up to rejoin the story. This happens over and over and over.
Combine this with a ludicrous comic-book ending and, well, there are better ways to spend one's time and money.
While the story itself is an important one, the book was a frustration to listen to. It was an act of patience to tease out the facts from all the sentimental anthropomorphizing. We DO NOT 'know' what the dogs were thinking, wishing, remembering; we can only use our intelligence and compassion to develop a useful understanding of their behaviors and needs. Another source of irritation was the narrator, who articulated the text as though he were recording it for a class of foreign language students just learning English. These complaints aside, I did listen to the end, because, again, this is an important and mostly inspiring story.
Have you ever watched a really bad telenovela? This is worse. I listened on to the very end, in a sort of a stunned trance, not believing that any book, let alone one by Russell Banks, could be so bad! A hackneyed, melodramatic, and haphazardly organized mess revolving around two narcissistic trouble-makers.
And the narration? omigosh! Sometimes the reader sounded like he had made a bet he could narrate the book while holding the text upside down, at other times, he seemed strangely and inappropriately overexcited, using a voice one might use to shout through a wall to someone trapped in a burning building. I downloaded this book on impulse, because I have enjoyed Russell Banks in the past. What a mistake!!
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