I'm starting to wonder, after hundreds of Audible books and four years as a subscriber, if I am burning out on listening to books. The last several I've listened to have been underwhelming. Winter of the World is, unfortunately, no exception, and even goes beyond underwhelming to just plain annoying.
I doubt anyone would imagine Ken Follett's work as literature. It can be entertaining, and I liked Pillars of the Earth and World Without End well enough.The characters were interesting and the way their lives overlapped and entwined kept me involved. But the wheels started to come off with Fall of Giants, where a suspicious character makes repeated appearances without his role ever coming to resolution. What was he doing there?
Winter of the World is, alas, not even entertaining. Much has been written with World War II as a backdrop, and perhaps there's not much new to say about it. If that's the case, then don't write a book. This one is just a rehash of things that have already been explored, and with far greater skill, by other authors - such as, but not limited to, Herman Wouk.
Plenty of things in Winter of the World ring hollow and fall flat. An acute example involves Robert, a man who lost his restaurant to the brown shirts in Germany, and who witnessed the brutal murder of a loved one at their hands (graphically described early in the book). Three years later, safe in England, he's talking to another witness to this awful event, and he comments that his old restaurant in Berlin is still open. The two pause as if in reflection, and Robert then comments, "They don't use white tablecloths anymore." Really? Is this the level of bitterness and regret engendered by witnessed - and narrowly escaped - brutality?
John Lee is a narrator I usually enjoy, but perhaps he realized he was not narrating a Great American Novel. He falls in and out of stereotypical accents, and worse, he whines to indicate a young woman's delivery of dialogue. It was bad enough that half the time, I couldn't figure out if I was listening to a sex-starved 10 year old or a lusty young woman scouting for a rich husband. The aforementioned Robert is said to speak flawless unaccented English, but then Lee slips into his dialogue with a German edge on the accent.
All in all, it's just tiresome. And at nearly 32 hours, that's a long time to feel tired.
Normally I would steer clear of a celebrity autobiography - I haven't even read the highly rated Tina Fey book - but I decided to read this one because (1) it got such high ratings and (2) I am a huge fan of The West Wing, and specifically the character Rob Lowe played in it. I thought also that it might be worthwhile to see how Lowe overcame his youthful excesses and became a settled, mature family man without turning into a bore. I'm sorry to say that although the story and the narration were likeable enough, they were just...bland. There was something missing from the whole West Wing section, as though he was trying to spare someone on the cast or crew a less than flattering story. I can appreciate that this might have been a kindness on the author's part, but the result for me was a feeling that too much was untold, and it did a disservice to the truth of Lowe's character - whatever it might be. If you're going to write an autobiography, you have to really tell it. He did an excellent job of telling on himself in the early parts of the book, and that made me wonder what was really going on when he didn't get the money the rest of the cast got, and when he wasn't included in the Emmy photo, and when he was pretty much relegated to a minor player in the show. So, all in all, I'm not offended by anything in the book, and I wouldn't give it a bad rating - he can clearly write, and his narration was entertaining enough - but the overall effect is just meh.
I am still struggling through this recording, but have decided to switch to the written book. I've come to the conclusion that the narrator must have substantially missed the tone the author was going for.
Helprin is the author of one of my favorite books of all time - Freddy and Fredericka - which I have listened to at least three times. The narrator of that one, Robert Ian Mackenzie, gets it exactly right. No doubt In Sunlight and In Shadow is a different kind of book, but I can't help but feel there are moments of irony that are completely miscast in Runnette's sing-song melancholy tone.
I'm going to have a try at the printed work because I think Helprin is trying to do something that needs doing. I
think he is trying to cast a line from World War II to the present and show the seeds that have brought us where we are today - the difference between paper wealth and real productivity, and between image and identity. He's up to the challenge. I'm reserving judgment on whether he's accomplished it or not.
This is one of the few occasions that I've felt a narrator truly compromised my experience of a book. Too bad. Runnette has a nice voice, but he takes elegiac to a new high (or low) here.
I found this book, though dark, to be entertaining. Not great literature, but there's enough meat in the ideas to get me to think. The author did a great job of extending the worst of our current natures to their logical conclusion, and then placing his characters in a world of that making. Cautionary tale, indeed.
I enjoyed the book right up to the end, where the guy comes on and says "This is Audible. We hope you enjoyed..." At that point, I thought maybe I'd gotten a corrupted file, so I even re-downloaded and re-installed it on my iPod. Nope, that is the actual abrupt end of the book.
That makes me mad. It makes me feel like I'm being played for what I'll buy next that has this author's name on it. Never mind that I'm left hanging in the middle of several radically new developments. Never mind that I feel cheated by major plot threads left hanging. The only thing that matters is leaving me so up in the air that I have no choice but to buy the next in the series.
It doesn't have to be that way. I've read and enjoyed many other series, and have waited with anxious anticipation for the next book to come out. In fact I'm about to read Tana French's latest, and I've read the three leading up to it, and not in any particular order. Now that's a successful series. I didn't even know I was reading a series until Broken Harbor came out with the announcement that it's the fourth installment in a series.
Readers don't need to be manipulated to stay with a series. Give us a great book with a satisfying ending - even one that leaves us a little on the edge, and that also gives us closure on the stuff that matters. Just don't make it feel like you stopped in the middle of a sentence just to get us to the edge of the cliff.
Too bad. It had promise.
This is the second performance I've heard by Katherine Kellgren. She is most definitely not to my taste - no nuance, no subtlety, just exclamation points galore. Her delivery seems well-suited to the book, but I mistook the book for something more serious than it is.
The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
Everything is over the top, and somehow that makes mediocre story and writing seem downright bad.
I am not sure I'd keep any of them. They were all stereotypical and one-dimensional.
One of the few books I've ever regretted spending a credit on.
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