Edith Wharton's novel is deliciously enjoyable, especially if you delight in watching detestable characters crush one another and see people behave more brutishly and vulgarly than you could have expected. By "people" I primarily mean the wonderfully named Undine Spragg, a social climber who bulldozes as many people as she can to attain an ever escaping, ever elusive goal of social grandeur and wealth. Wharton's satiric, witty, whip-smart writing fairly sparkles here, and the entire novel has lighter touch, perhaps because about half of it is in the mind of a buffoon, rather than the plodding Archer of Age of Innocence, for example.
But I really want to write about Barbara Caruso here, who should narrate EVERYTHING. She reads with warmth, humor, wit, and imparts an incredible understanding of each of the characters. I wonder about the difficulty of being a reader—she has to play every role, and she does so splendidly. Conflicted characters like Undine, whom one would normally expect to hate, are given depth and conviction. Brava.
This review focuses only on the narrator, Kate Lock.
She's a pretty standard narrator: makes distinct voices for her characters and reads at a steady, not-too-fast pace. There's nothing particularly good or bad about these aspects of performance. But if you're a picky listener like me, and you might be, since this book is over FORTY HOURS long, you may want to know:
1. She "acts" out the dialogue and all parts of it. So if a character coughs while talking, she coughs too. If a character is eating while talking, she talks as if her mouth is full. Some people might enjoy this realism, but I found it gratingly unnecessary. The mid-dialogue laughter is painfully forced.
2. The voices for Kitty and Dolly can be extremely high-pitched, especially when they're distressed—like crying cats.
3. I think this is the Constance Garnet translation; there are no translations for French or German pieces of dialogue, which are luckily sparse.
4. All this said, Levin's dialogue is performed terrifically.
I'll be shopping around for another narrator, however. Hope this helps other listeners!
This is one of Kate Reading's better narrations, and the material could not be more compelling. Translated by Lydia Davis (master short story writer!), the book is both light and tragic, humorous and disturbing, emotional and cerebral. Flaubert is one of the few who can do that. The tragedy of Emma and the triumphs of Homais are delicately rendered in this smart translation.
Reading reads with perfect inflections, making Emma sound airy and "arty," Charles slow and pitiful, Leon slippery, etc. No silly attempts at trying to sound male; just excellent infusions of the character's personality into his/her voice to make him/her sound believable. The speed is just right. I've heard other narrations by Kate Reading and some don't match up in quality or direction.
The writing style seems so effortless and light that you almost think Flaubert knocked it out with the wave of a hand, but as you keep listening, you realize what a brilliantly composed, tightly plotted piece this is. Also superb is Davis's introduction in the print version. It's not in the audio version, but if you can get your hands on a print (or digi) copy, by all means, read!
I've been a fan of the Secret Circle since the 90s, and was thrilled to have an audio version. Sorvari has a perfect, sulky teenage voice, which would seem great for delivering this somewhat melodramatic trilogy. Her reading speed is perfect; neither too fast or slow.
Given how over the top the narrative already is, I wish Sorvari had read more evenly. She delivers ferocity, sulkiness, and drama, but does so in ALL instances, even for ordinary sentences, like, "Cassie's grandmother stood up." Does a sentence like that really need to be read with such intensity? Haha-funny lines, like those of the Henderson brothers, are also strangely sarcastic instead of slapstick. Sorvari pretty much delivers the entire book in this one way, and it becomes monotonous.
This sulky delivery also doesn't fit the protagonist's personality. Cassie is shy, ethical, and earnest, not at all bratty or rebellious, as Sorvari would have you believe.
As for the book itself, I read this when I was 10 and have reread it since then. But hearing it through someone else's voice revealed unintentionally silly it can be! There are plot holes that go unaddressed: Doesn't anyone think it's weird Cassie arrives exactly when she "needs to"? Wouldn't they be even slightly suspicious? And for the trilogy as a whole: Isn't it odd how little say Adam has? The romantic decisions are made entirely by Cassie, and he's a Romeo-like doll, never choosing but being told who he's allowed to be with. To Smith's credit, he does set up certain crucial scenes and this is a female-centric world, but he nevertheless seems flat and unappealing. (Nick, on the other hand, is much more interesting b/c he has a backstory.)
Most gratingly, there is an absurd amount of attention paid to how beautiful and frightening Faye is—it is repetitive and even embarrassing. I skipped over those paragraphs and paragraphs of how golden her eyes and skin are and blablabla, but you can't do that in an audiobook.
The producers erred terribly in hiring Rosalyn Landor because
1) She can't do an American accent.
2) Her male voices sound like the voice you make when you drop your chin into your neck and make as silly a deep voice you can.
The pity is that the protagonist for this book is American and a New Yorker (I'm both) yet sounds exactly like someone parodying a flat, part faux-midwestern, part cowboy accent with the most rollings R's I've ever heard a Brit or American bother with. Lillian and her sister sound like they should be riding mules and shooting their pistols instead of coming out of New York society.
You can imagine how scenes of ardor sound when a woman sounds like a cowgirl and a man sounds like a kid pretending to be a man. The declarations of passion are absolutely hilarious and ridiculous, and I found all the male characters very difficult to take seriously because they sounded so awful.
If you can get over these two things and are a fan of Lisa Kleypas, then I guess it's a fine read. Try not to laugh.
Wharton, of course, is great. The story is complex, the characters are bitingly satirized, and the setting is detailed, fascinating, and a character unto itself.
The reader, David Horowitch, is mostly excellent too. He does a rather funny flat accent for the New Yorkers and reads quite lyrically. He differentiates his characters and reads passionately.
Bad news: Countess Olenska sounds like Count Dracula. Wharton describes her having a strange accent, Olenska having lived a long time in Europe, but one gets the impression she spent most of her time in France, not in Transylvania. Besides, marrying a man with an accent doesn't mean you automatically acquire one too
Perhaps to make her sound poetical, Horowitch also murmurs all of her dialogue. Unless she's shouting, you have to crank the volume up whenever Olenska speaks, because he murmurs, whispers, or breathes what she says. I wish whoever who mixed this recording had pitched her dialogue higher. Unless you're in a quiet room the entire time you listen to this, you're definitely going to miss what she says at least a dozen times.
But maybe I'm picky. It's still a terrific recording, and Horowitch was by far the best reader I could find with the Audible samples.
Morgan has a beautifully modulated voice, deep and lovely. But you cannot tell who's talking when there's dialogue, as she doesn't do "voices" AND there are no pauses between pieces of dialogue. Still worse, there is absolutely no expression in the dialogue. Emma saying, "Mr. Elton, surely you are speaking of Harriet," when she's trying to rebuff his proposal and Mr. Knightly saying "My boots were quite dry" sound EXACTLY THE SAME. I was trying to avoid the usual Nadia May route, but there's a reason why she's always at the top of the list!
You have to be a real Little House fan to enjoy this book. What McClure appreciates is so much of the little details in the books (rather than the historical arc), such as the strawberry-and-leaf butter mold Ma uses in Little House in the Big Woods, or the baking of Long Winter bread. Luckily I am a fan, so I did enjoy this very much. This serves as an excellent introduction into the vast library of writings on Wilder and who to read. The narrator's voice is sweet, funny and she reads well.
My only criticism is that the book itself is quite insubstantial. McClure details all the Little House sites she visits and maybe because more b/c she feels obligated to than because every single one of the sites reveals something illuminating. Hardcore fan that I am, I even faltered in my listening. There is in the last chapter a revelation as to why she's so obsessed with Wilder, and while it's heartfelt, it's feels tacked on; as if her editor said, "It's a memoir! You need revelation!"
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