The plot and characterization of the book were all right--I'd put it between three and four stars, if I could. I also might have rated the novel higher if I had read it, rather than listened to it--hard to say. The reader, however, wrecked whatever I might have enjoyed. The side characters she portrays quite well. Her performance of the main character starts off not great, but fair, in my opinion. But the farther along I listened, the more grating and finally almost intolerable, it was. The Welsh accent is strong, but sounds put on. As the book progresses, the accent starts to sound more and more like the arrogant, condescending, 'evil' high-caste English aunts. I think this was meant to show how the character was changing in her new environment, but the last two-thirds of the novel sounded to me like false Welsh/condescending English, which was mind-drilling. I was glad I fell asleep for the last bit of the book (listening in bed), but woke up enough to hear the final scene--I got to hear the end of the story without having to listen to that voice.
This is fine for what it is--well, sort of fine. Not really. It's neither a real biography of Beethoven, nor an analysis of his work; it's an entertaining but fluffed-out skim over both. Half is segments of Beethoven's compositions, interleaved with brief narrations of his life and descriptions of him by contemporaries (acted quite well; the narrators are very good).
But while the compositions connect to the narrations, they are long (half the book) and nothing is done with them. And while the snippets on B's life are good, they are just that--snippets. The print equivalent of this work would be a short magazine article with glossy illustrations.
A wonderful version of the very same topic is Robert Greenberg's Great Masters: Beethoven - His Life and Music. Greenberg is professor of musicology and a composer. He gives the same material as this book/article, but even more entertainingly, with much greater depth, and an enlightening, sophisticated, accessible analysis of B's compositions and life. It's better in every way, and costs less, if you are buying without credits. Greenberg's is 6 hours long vs. this work's 5 hours. It's not a pedantic work; it's this work, done better.
Okay, long review. Short form--it's definitely not worth the money.
Unfortunately, the reader of this book seems to belong to the 'It's history, so I must sound portentous' school of thought. That really detracted. But in addition, the writing style is repetitive. Over and over, we hear something like, 'The anti-Federalists did not agree with Madison,' or, 'The Federalists thought they could turn this to their advantage.' I'm not quite half-way through, but am stopping.
Before listening to this book, I wondered how good it could be if the entire subject was the few days directly around the crossing. How much can anybody say? However, I bought it on the strength of the reviews and my growing interest in the Revolutionary era.
It turns out that someone can write a very good book indeed! It actually starts in Boston, then follows Washington through the New York debacle and the New Jersey retreat. This is not filler; it's necessary background for the situation W. found himself in at Christmas, 1776. After an excellent description/analysis of the crossing, Fischer goes further and explains how the rest of that year's campaign in New Jersey followed from and expanded the victory at Trenton.
In short, the narrator was great, the book is a wonderful piece of historical writing, and it definitely increased my knowledge of the Revolutionary War and Washington as a leader.
The book doesn't have much in the way of characters, but at first, I found it kind of sweet--I know several two-dads families, and thought of them while reading it. I didn't even mind the "Brand-G is the best kind of carseat" parts--maybe it would be useful to prospective dads. But there really isn't much plot beyond the first third of the book, there's no characterization or level of prose to keep one's interest, and there are two or three pretty explicit sex scenes that seemed completely out of place--they didn't advance the plot or characters, just seemed thrown in to have sex in the book. The happy ending didn't read as real, either. Disappointing.
The book is wonderful. However, I also mistakenly downloaded this version instead of Patrick Tull's. Vance simply doesn't get the characters. His Jack Aubrey sounds like a foolish bullfrog. His Maturin sounds like an almost effeminate Englishman, not a man of sharp intellect and character, and certainly not a man with a subtle Irish accent. I know some folks may prefer Vance, but if you have not yet chosen, I would definitely recommend Tull.
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