It's like a cross between a sitcom and a costume drama (though I can't say I got a lot of period flavor in this "Regency" story--the historic details felt more like sci-fi, as if these characters were living in a parallel universe). Oh, and some romance novel thrown in, too. This may sound like a terrible combination, but the writing is clever, and Davina Porter's performance is superlative: overall, great fun. My one disappointment is that I had been looking forward to seeing how M.C. resolved some of the situations she'd set up (what happens to the forged necklace? what was the origin of the mysterious fire?) but apparently she was saving the answers for the next volume of the six-volume series.
Imagine two columns, Column A headed "yes, please" and Column B headed "no, thanks." When you think about what you enjoy in an audiobook, into which column would you place each of the following?
—knights and swordplay
—ritual barbarian sex
—animals with preternatural powers
—fantastic buildings with inconceivable supply and waste-removal systems
—teenaged and pre-teen heroes and heroines in adult roles
—wenches and whores
—blood, LOTS of blood
I had thought I was up for all of the above. In my youth, my Tolkein paperbacks were limp from exhaustive rereading. More recently, I've been a fan of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. However, 33 hours of irony-free fantasy proved too much for this listener. Around hour 25, when bastard Jon Snow saves Lord Jeor from a midnight attack by a wight assassin, he is rewarded for his courage by being given the sword of Valyrian steel (whoo-hoo!) that has been passed from father to son in Jeor's family for five centuries. While part of me was busy noting the emotional significance of this gesture for Jon and calculating its implications for the plot...I also found myself giggling at the sword's name (for the record: Longclaw). Am I the only person who finds this epic story a bit silly?
The synthesis of thought and feeling that makes Forster's later work so compelling is missing here, and the storyline descends into bathos (I literally rolled my eyes during the scene with the Baby's milk). I almost wish I hadn't read this book, because now I keeping thinking I detect untrammeled sentimentality around the edges of scenes in other books by Forster, like when you keep thinking you smell something bad after you actually have. Edward Petherbridge reads expressively but even less intelligibly than he did for Howard's End, which make this somewhat confusing story even harder to follow.
After I listened to the book, Hubby and I streamed the movie. Afterwards:
Hubby: When was the book written?
Me: About a hundred years ago.
Hubby: It seems so modern!
That's Forster for you. He watches people, and understands their prejudices and passions, and gets it down in writing. And though society changes, and the nature of the pressures it exerts on people changes, human nature is just the same as it was 100 years ago. As a man with secret passions, Forster knew his material inside and out.
Wanda McCaddon is an excellent narrator. Sometimes women's voices are too brassy for male characters, and I was concerned that McCaddon's voice would be distracting, but her inflections are so convincing that this was not an issue. I would definitely choose her again.
If you enjoy Gaiman and Pratchett, as I do, here you go—two for the price of one, a deal not to be missed (I could hear them each in my head, in different parts of the story). Could I give Martin Jarvis deserves 6 stars for his performance, I would. He keeps the multitude of voices distinct, and channels the wry humor of the Gaiman/Pratchett team marvelously.
Wonderful stuff about money and privilege—who's got it, who hasn't, and what consequences follow. Though Forster's work is challenging to narrate because it is so dialogue-heavy, Petherbridge reads expressively and well, and I was rarely confused as to who was speaking. My only complaint about Petherbridge's narration is that sometimes his voice sinks to a whisper unintelligible to the dogwalker or commuter, and sometimes difficult to understand even by a bedtime listener.
I finally realized why I don't enjoy the talented and accomplished Simon Vance as a narrator: his voice strikes me as chilly, even though I realize he might in real life be the warmest-hearted person I could ever hope to meet. But what this meant for my "Bring Up the Bodies" listen is that I was left wondering if Hilary Mantel was telling the story of a man (Cromwell) corrupted by power, who had lost some of his human qualities—or if it was just that Simon Slater (for Book One of the series) was better able to express Cromwell's tenderness and regrets. I couldn't tell if Cromwell had changed, or if I was just confused by the change in narrator. Also, while "Wolf Hall" chronicles the rise of the plucky Cromwell and equally plucky Anne Boleyn, and it's the icky Thomas More who loses his head, in "BUtB" it's the demure (and less fascinating) Jane Seymour whose star is rising, and it's hard not to feel sorry for the innocent and/or naive courtiers who end up paying the ultimate price when Cromwell starts calling in accounts. Despite the excellent writing and narration, I didn't enjoy this audiobook as much as its predecessor.
I love Simon Slater's voice so much, I want to marry it. I even considered buying one of the "Dummies" books so that I could listen to him read some more.
I found this book enormously engaging, because every statement--whether the narrator's or his accounts of what other characters have said--must be weighed for degrees of truth: each person has his or her own self-interests to rationalize and justify. Ralph Cosham's voice perfectly expresses the appropriate nuances of self-doubt, puzzlement, and regret. I liked Cosham's work here so much that I subsequently chose him as my narrator for Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," and noticed that while his voice sounded younger and fuller for HoD, for TGS he seemed more a master of the meaningful pause, making his reading of this devastating story all the more powerful.
Though most of the factory girls who make our clothes are now overseas, Dreiser's themes of social inequality, evangelical Christianity, the death penalty, and access to birth control and abortion are disquietingly familiar today. Dreiser (who partied with anarchist Emma Goldman) is sensitive and unsparing in his exploration of these issues. Protagonist Clyde Griffiths would probably make the list of "fifty boyfriends worse than yours," but narrator Dan John Miller gives him the necessary charm to make his story credible. The book drags a bit near the end, but is memorable overall.
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