On the surface this is a delightful well-written romance, in the audible version beautifully brought off by a lovely reading by Wanda McCaddon. But its real purpose seems to have been to explore the rigid class structure of Victorian England, its hypocrisy (the Honeychurch family's standing in society for example is simply due to the deceased Mr. Honeychurch's foresight in purchasing Windy corner) and the challenge to it (represented by the forward-thinking atheistic Mr. Emerson). Forster's sympathy obviously lies with the removal of the class structure as shown by Lucy's ultimate choice of husband and the title of the final chapter "the End of the Middle Ages" but it is not an unconditional vote; Mr. Emerson's choices lost him his wife and the understanding of his son and in Chapter 19, the author has Lucy thinking "it seemed dreadful that the old man should crawl into such a sanctum [the clergyman's house] when he was unhappy, and be dependent of the bounty of a clergyman" he having said to her "We have pushed our beliefs too far. I fancy we deserve some sorrow."
There are some complaints; Mrs. Honeychurch's failure accept Lucy's choice is out of character and the reader is left tantalizingly to speculate on Charlotte's sudden change from opponent to ally and to wonder what lay in her past.
I gave Bleak House 4 stars, Room with a View is not as good, it's more of a 3.5 but well worth the read/listen.
"There's no honour among thieves, and frankly not so much among the good guys" sums up the plot. Set over 5 days in late 1920's San Francisco, the story rips along with memorable characters, all of them quite wicked. If you like your heroes to be nice guys, Sam Spade is not for you. But the fast pace of the narrative means that the relationships remained undeveloped and at the end I would have preferred a longer book which explained how Brigid, Cairo and Gutman (what a wonderful name for a fatman!) got together to steal the falcon in the first place with clues on how Kemidov fooled them in the end. For the modern reader some of the San Francisco late 1920's slang was dated and unrecognisable. The narrator was just okay, his men were acceptable, but he fell short with the women especially in those passages where he had to put some animation in the voices of Brigid and Effie Perine.
Set in England and France during the period of the September 1792 massacres following the French Revolution, the story revolves around changing relationship between Marguerite St. Just, a French actress and her English Baronet husband Sir Percey Blakeney. There is no sub-plot.
The story requires the reader to take several leaps of faith; the diguises employed by the Scarlet Pimpernel, a tall, well built muscular English-man strain credibility. Both Marguerite St. Just and the evil Chauvelin are portrayed as extremely clever people, yet are very slow in picking up the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
As "faction" the book also fails; the September massacre was not of nobles, but rather of common people following the storming of the prisons, it preceded rather than followed the reign of terror and in September 1792 there was no "Committee of Public Safety".
However Baroness Orczy's descriptions are vivid and this probably accounts for the novel's tremendous success. For the modern reader, its graphic description of the French revolution is a reminder of the excesses to which a popular revolution can be taken (though "A Tale of Two Cities" does this far better)and the moral dilema which Marguerite twice has to face of having to sacrifice many brave men to save a loved one, remains a relevant and interesting theme.
Of itself the novel would merit 2 to 3 stars as reasonable "easy reading". Its rating however is driven down by a very poor narrator. Mr. Zimmerman's phrasing was halting and he paused in odd places, which I found very distracting. His English and French accents were inconsistent and some cases incomprehensible. I intend to avoid him in the future, which is a pity as he is the only narrator Audible offers for "War and Peace".
I read the print version while listening to Robert Whitfield narrate it in the background. The book itself is a wonderful novel and Dickens brilliantly inter-weaves the characters. The narration by Robert Whitfield helped get past those passages which are perhaps a little too long-winded for the modern reader and his use of different accents greatly assist in bring the characters, the story and the various plots alive. I read/listened to Bleak House straight after Don Quixote (the Crossman translation read by George Guidall) and even in that august company the novel and the narrator shone forth. Highly recommended. 4 stars because 5 is perfection.
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