Twain is one of my favourite fiction writers. All his talents are also there in full strength in this non-fiction work.
Telling the story of a journey through the Mediteranean and the "Holy" land by a group of Americans it is laced with all the humour, irreverance and intelligence that I love in his work. As a travel book it gives just enough flavour of the countries and places it visits to be relevant and contains some interesting historic details that were the currency of the day. I came away with a clearer picture of the reach of the Turkish (Ottoman?) empire than I had before and a better notion of some of the scale of the geography.
But you're not going to enjoy this for geography or history. You're going to enjoy it if you're interested in people and intelligent and witty comment on their behaviour. That is what Twain did best and this is one of his best.
Grover Gardner does an excellent job of the narration. Just the right level of old man growl to fit the words perfectly.
OK. Orwell is one of the most important writers in the English language. 1984 is probably the book that saved us from living entirely in the society it describes. And all of 1984 is here, in embryo, disguised as a book about going back to your youth and it's environs.
Orwell is always at his most fluid when he is describing politics or nature and here he goes full pelt at both of them. The Two Minutes Hate is here. Duckspeak is here. And so is the Golden Country. And here the description of the Golden Country is given full reign. And runs to cover quite a bit of the first few chapters.
I allow myself the conceit that George Bowling, the main protagonist, is actually the father of the Winston Smith of 1984. The timeline is nearly right and there are aspects of Bowling's story that make it just about possible. I'm pretty sure that Orwell had no intention to make it so but the two stories definitely flow into each other in a way that this idea enhances.
The story is however mainly about the coarseness of progress and the loss of rural life to commercialism, speculation and "airy fairynesss" for lack of a better phrase. This novel was published during the period where totalitarian states were taking actions that Orwell recognised as leading to inevitable war but before the actual outbreak of conflict for Britain. As such it is an important window onto that period of history.
The narration is very good and the overall production is excellent.
If you only ever read one Orwell it should be this one, but shame on you if it is.
A very long time ago my infant school teacher read us all Stig of the Dump. Out loud and in its entirety. She was better at it than Tony Robinson or maybe it's just that my 6 year old mind was more impressed by her rendition. Whichever it was, the title has been in my head ever since, along with at least some of the scenes in the story.
It's a simple kind of story but with enough nuance to be interesting and if you are listening along with younger readers nobody will get lost and nobody should get bored. The language is simple without being condescending and Robinson actually does a very good job with it.
It's about the kind of everyday adventures that I had as a boy with just a little bit of extension to make them that bit more exciting. The kind of thing that we certainly used to believe was just about possible before, sadly, we learned better. Share it with a child before they learn better.
I love the movie and remember just how "other" it seemed when it was first release.
But it never made sense.
Now it does.
This is one of the (many) books I have loved. I read it first when I was about 12 and the plot and some of its scenes have lived in my head for a very long time.
It is very English.
It is very 30's.
It is very good.
It's Englishness and it's 30'sness mean that some of its language and some of its sensibilities will jar on many 21st century minds. Get over it. The point of historical texts is to let us see where we came from and this does that well.
The writing is clear and direct. The language is simple and the descriptions are concise. The story is simple in concept but deep enough to stay interesting.
It translates well to audio and Browne's narration is clear and without excessive characterisation.
This will make it to the repeat listen list with no problem.
Gordon Comstock may just be the least appealing character in any book I have ever read. Whining, self pitying, grasping (of everything but money) he is almost completely devoid of human sympathy. At one point I nearly abandoned the book because he is such an unsympathetic persona.
But it is an Orwell. You can't give up on an Orwell. It's the law. And Gordon does finally redeem himself for the most human of all reasons. If you love Orwell you need to work your way through all of his work. If you don't love Orwell you need to work your way through all of his work so that you eventually will. This is certainly no "Animal Farm" and "Coming up for Air" is a friendlier read (next please Audible) but it certainly repays the listening time.
Richard E Grant's performance is excellent. Just the right amount of self important sneer in his voice and just the right tone of undeserved and unappreciated privilege in his delivery. All round a very good audiobook.
I relisten to "The Scarlet Pimpernel" frequently but this isn't going to make it to the repeats list.
It lacks the humour and adventure of the original and spends too much time talking about how luuuuuuvly Blakeney is and how much she luuuuuuvs him and frankly it wears a bit thin after an hour or so. But maybe that's just me.
This should have been a fascinating exploration of the techniques and methods used in this interesting and important aspect of the second world war, and by extension war more generally. But it isn't. It expends too much effort on who did what and when they did it and not enough on what they did.
The narration is OK and the details are vaguely interesting but the trick is missed.
I don't often give in on a book. This one, this time, I did. And about 80% of the way through! On the rare occassions when I abandon a book it is usually early on but this one took hours to grind me down.
I suspect that I kept giving it the benefit of the doubt because I have enjoyed other tiles in the Flashman series.It may be because the historical background to this one is little known to me. It may be because the narration didn't strike me as well fitted. It may be because even a great author (MacDonald Fraser is quite good but definitely not great) pushes out a dud every now and then. More realisically it is a mix of all of them.
I came to this after relistening to an old Flashman favourite (F in the Great Game) and a new addition (Flashman).
The first of these is narrated by Timothy West who is perfect for the part.
The second by Rupert Penry-Jones who was startlingly adequate at the role. I was wthin a whisker of abandoning that one when it finished.
But this title is narrated by Toby Stephens whose performance was as patchy as they come. The reason West is perfect is because these are the memoirs of a man being read in his later years relating his exploits as a young man. They should be read by an old duffer and Timothy West does old duffer about a hundred times better than either of the other two. I'll be willing to bet cash money that he costs more than either of the other two but the quality is there all the way through the recording. It just sounds very very wrong to have a 12 year olds voice reading an old man story.
So I'm left up a stump now. I had intended to build a listening career on this series but now find that unless they are narrated by West I am quite likely to abandon them.
My advice is probably to either only listen to the ones narrated by West or never listen to them. Without his performance they are pretty insipid stuff.
I purchased this with some small fear. Not about Twain's part of it but because the first volume was ballasted with way too much information about who the editors and compilers were and how clever they had been in editing and compiling the work. And in volume 1 it was all at the beginning of the book and of the chapters so at no time was it safe to use the guff blocker that is labelled "fast forward".
But this edition is done the way it should be done. Hoorah!!!! There is still some content about the editors and financial contributors, as I am sure is only fair. But it is all at the end. Hoorah Hoorah!! Puttng it there, where it belongs, means that as a listener you have been able to enjoy Twain's stream of consciousness after which you realise how much you should be grateful to the people in the credits section and are happy to listen to it and give them credit.
Grover Gardner is an inspired choice as narrator reading the material with inflection and style. Getting excited in the exciting bits and amused in the amusing bits. If anybody ever wants an example of how an audiobook should be performed then they shoulduse this as their guide.
As to the content - It's Twain - Just buy it.
I could not help visualising a scene in the office of Haggard's publisher where the publisher is saying
"Can't you do King Solomon's Mines 2 - The Return or something like that. That I can sell."
"All the same old stereotypes?" asks Haggard
"Of course. Oh - do you think you can fit a cowardly and stupid Frenchman in there as well. Everybody likes a cowardly Frenchman. Oooh Ooooh - I know - make him a chef"
"Not a problem" says Haggard as he gets up to leave.
And that's what he did. Same old stiff upper lip nationalism. Same set piece action scenes. Same over elaborate pointless descriptions with bizzare irrelevant details which go on and on and on.
Narration carefully chosen to be as pompous as the writing. And I usually like this stuff!!!!
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