I wish there were a way to give 4.5 stars to a book, for though I enjoyed this book tremendously, I would not say it achieves the highest level of literature. Nor, necessarily is that what it intends to do. Russo does not batter the reader over the head with his talent. He simply lets it unfold through his characters. And it is Russo's characterizations that are his strength. In Bridge of Sighs they are stronger than ever (stronger even than his Pulitzer Prize winning "Empire Falls" from 2002).
The lives of a handful of individuals from a factory-class Upstate New York town are both nuanced and elaborate. Each character is so rich, so full of faults and strengths, kindness and selfishness, that the town - divided into it's sectors of poor and middle class - seems to slowly become palpable as we get more and more familiar with its houses, stores and streets.
Russo's true gift is to underscore, without much action or special plot, the tumultuous inner lives of everyday people. Childhood, family, relationships (both young and old - casual and passionate), mean different things to people who are co-existing within them. Russo let's these contradicting expectations collide to a remarkabale and realistic effect. The story moves from past to present and from New York State to Venice (mostly New York) each shift in time and place letting the reader in a little further until we fully understand these multi-dimensional people.
This is a long, satisfying, big American book that communicates its purpose with clarity and precision, The book expands and digresses but there are no wasted words - by the last 1/3 it feels like every little detail is vital. The narration is very good and the writing is intelligent, serene and at times enlightening. I have read three Russo novels and this one is my favorite.
My favorite book is the original - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - for the simple reason that it has the most Salander in it and we get to see Salander and Mikael working as a team. But, I love the other two books as well, the third one a bit more than the 2nd.
The narration by Simon Vance for all three books is excellent and enhanced these already entertaining stories.
I'm sad it's over and I hope the rumors of an undiscovered 4th book turn out to be true.
I've seen the first two of the Swedish Film versions of the Millenium books and they are quite good. The Actress they get to play Salander is incredible. I understand they're making the US version of the films soon starring Daniel Craig, since they cannot improve on the acting of this Swedish actress I would recommend they just hire her to reprise the role a la Penelope Cruz for Abre Los Ojos and Vanilla Sky. Looking forward to the Swedish film version of this book in the Winter.
All said and done it is so difficult to describe what's so good about these books. I've sensed a bit of a backlash since they've skyrocketed in popularity in the US. But for me, especially in the first book, the character of Lisbeth takes you so by surprise, and her fragile relationships are so touching, that you cannot resist the appeal. Solid enough writing, an exotic setting in a familiar but very different culture and a story line just good enough to keep all of it together - somehow these parts all add up to equal something much greater than a more factual description could convey.
This is excellent narration and the skeleton of a master story with master writing is there - but it is just not fully fleshed out. Those who enjoy literary books and excellent narration should spend a credit on this but do not expect perfection. Instead there are glimpses and hints of those moments I know I crave where the story has finally turned a corner and you are fully involved, ready to go wherever the author takes you because the author has earned your trust. But this book has too many false starts too many lulls between the brilliant passages and the wonderful, if minimally used, mixing of historical fiction into the story. Its about magic the way the movie "The Prestige" is about magic, that is, it is a central point to be sure but also, somehow, ancillary.
Any book that can be this long and still keep you going certainly has qualities, and this one has many, I was just hoping for a bit more pacing and a better use of such intriguing characters as Clarke created.
Extraordinary. A true literary achievement. The writing and imagination of a genius able to span the history of the world and a spectrum of minute emotions. Every narrator is good and don't be alarmed when the first story seems to end suddenly, it will return.
The Poisonwood Bible follows a path that many profound literary titles do. They start off slow, they make you wonder what all the fuss is about and then, at about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through, you find yourself totally enthralled and hoping the book will go on forever. Not that the first half is bad, or even boring, it's just a case of needing to acclimate (and in this case, since needing to acclimate is exactly what the Price family needs to do, it works quite well).
But, unfortunately, not helping this process is the narrator. She reads too quickly (for such savory and deep language) and offers no personality to the different narrators or tones of dialogue. Having to take so long to adjust to the speed and monotony of the reader (which I eventually did and why I ultimately do recommend the book) is inexcusable. A great narrator could have brought this book to life. But this opportunity was missed, replaced with a bland and matter-of-fact reader who was, simply, competent.
But it is a great book. Beautifully written with language flowing from the daughters that could stand out on their own as fine literary passages. Weaved into the dense tangle of colonial African political strife; the Price family brings us deep into and out of the Congo. The story shines through, each daughter moving the plot along at just the right pace. It is an exceptional plot technique employed bravely and smoothly.
The book is deserving of 5 stars but the Audiobook only gets 4.
I really enjoyed this book, the narrator was excellent and the story is clear and concise.
Certain passages are written beautifully, especially when Millard expounds upon the specific details of Roosevelt's and Rondon's life and the Amazon itself. These characters come to life but it isn't really until the epilogue that you invest in them an emotional attachment that I wish was there all along. In that way, though the story unfolds like an adventure, it doesn't come alive the way a fiction reader might hope it would (like it does, for example, in "Devil and the White City").
Regardless, it is a quick and fascinating read (listen) and makes me want to learn so much more about Roosevelt, Rondon, The Amazon and the Indians who once lived along the Rio da Duvida.
First time listeners should download the podcasts and Guides.
Karl Pilkington could be described as a bald, mild-mannered, simpleton but this does not do him justice. Ricky and Steve (of "The Office" and "Extras" fame) brilliantly plum the depths of Karl; exploring the uncharted (and often terrifying) territory that is Karl's simultaneously underused and overused brain. The genius of the show is that Ricky and Steve are astonishingly well-educated on almost every topic one can think of; they are indeed passionate intellectuals. Karl is not. In the radio show the duo simply expounds upon any and all ideas they believe will reveal Karl's gullibility or talent for the absurd (like Karl's bizarre journal readings). They wander onto any and all subjects digressing and laughing away at will. Karl never laughs. I live in the US so this style seems so refreshingly European; Briticisms and references to English celebrities we've never heard of are scattered throughout the constant banter. I've read other reviews of the show that pertain almost exclusively to Karl, but I don't think this does it justice. In these shows Karl becomes the stand-in for all the obstinate, ignorant, and hypocritical realities of the world (Karl stands in for these things but his misguided beliefs are so extreme and so innocent that rather then offend or threaten he makes us laugh). What Ricky and Steve do is vehemently dissect and tackle the lack of reason in Karl's fallacious beliefs and narrow lifestyle. Their reason and powers of logic are so astute and so well founded that the listener is not only satisfied from their delightful humor, anecdotes, and overall musings on life; but from the compounding sense that hearing this enlightened duo shriek and wail upon the benighted "ramblings of a madman" (as Ricky and Steve constantly do to Karl) is a rare and satisfying thing in popular culture.
Life of Pi is a brilliant book, it is wonderful as an audiobook and it is some of the best narration I have ever heard.
I must admit I almost stopped listening about 1/4 of the way through. The first part of the book did not inspire me to go on. I felt more like I was trudging through information that I was mildly interested in but not enough to keep listening to. I am so glad I persevered.
This part of the book simply sets the table. Once - I do not think I am giving too much away here - Pi is in the life raft with Richard Parker the book soars. The story is fascinating and the details, well, it is a book of delicious details - writerly and humorous. Just as Pi's survival is painstakingly workmanlike, Martel's prose describing that survival seems effortless - the ending put it over the top.
This is a book that I never read, but I can't imagine my own dull voice doing justice to Martel's words the way Jeff Woodman's narration does. The voice, the story, the individual scenes linger on long after this book is finished. In fact, when the book is done is when so many thoughts and questions about its significance and real meaning begin.
Middlesex is an expansive and brilliant novel. The narration, overall, is excellent and by the end you are hanging on every word. I looked forward to my commutes - walking through Central Park in the summer morning listening to Middlesex for 45 minutes straight before I entered the elevators of my office building - reluctantly removing my headphones before I walked into my office.
It is one of the best novels I have ever read (in this case, listened to). It is both grand and intimate at times culling the subtleties of American teenage life and at others epic and international in scope. These transitions are handled masterfully.
The only complaint I have ever heard, and one that I share, is that there could have been more. Middlesex could have just kept going - delving into characters and scenarios we only briefly visited. This is hardly an insult, but many people I know who have read and loved this book have felt similarly. There really is room for a sequel or a spin-off or some continuation of Cal's life.
When all is said and done - what an achievement, what a learning process - you are left in awe of Eugenides' brilliant observational powers combined with his tremendous research and imagination. He produced a work that lifts and brands the Pulitzer Prize, rather than the other way around.
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