Stella Gibbons has always been famous as the author of "Cold Comfort Farm", but she wrote many other extremely readable novels, which, through the vagaries of fashion, have mostly fallen out of print. "Nightingale Wood", one of the best of these, was reprinted a year or two ago by Virago, and this audiobook version is simply a delight to listen to. Carole Boyd has a vivid narration technique, handles male and female voices effortlessly, and generally keeps the whole thing moving at an irresistible pace.
"Nightingale Wood" is a modern version of Cinderella, a comedy of manners, and a romance of sorts. Its heroine, Viola Withers, is a young widow who, having married above herself, finds herself living as a poor relation with her dreary in-laws in East Anglia, just prior to the Second World War. Across the valley, on the other side of Nightingale Wood, lives Prince Charming, a conventional, superficially dashing, and rather empty businessman called Victor Spring. From their first dance at the Infirmary Ball, Viola yearns to be with Victor, but the path of their true love is a distinctly bumpy one, and full of compromises and disappointments.
This is not a particularly deep book, but it is funny, and sometimes touching, and has the advantage, in 2010, of having period charm. It is also beautifully written, with a wonderful cast of supporting characters, including Viola's dreadful father-in-law, the two "Ugly Sister" characters (one of whom startles her family by having a love affair with her father's chauffeur, twelve years her junior), Victor's frightful fiancee, Phyllis, and his intellectually pretentious cousin Hetty who finally attains her dream of running away to live in an attic in Bloomsbury with a Communist poet.
Needless to say, there are happy endings all around. One can only wish that some enlightened publisher will see fit to bring more of this wonderful author's books back into print.
Most of the audiobooks I listen to tend to be classics or things I have already read; since I often listen while doing housework, I find it helpful to know the story, and like to know I will enjoy listening to it before buying. Unusually for me, I bought Laura Moriarty's "The Chaperone" on spec, mainly because I have liked the narrator, Elizabeth McGovern, as an actress for many years, and because, having read a biography of the film star Louise Brooks, one of the main characters, I was intrigued by the idea of a fictional treatment of her life. In fact, Louise is a largely tangential character; the novel, which is a solid written piece of what might be termed "women's fiction", is really about the "chaperone" of the title, a 36 year old married woman called Cora Carlisle, who accompanies the teenaged Louise to New York when she goes there to study dancing, and whose own life is unexpectedly changed in the process.
The real life Louise Brooks seems to have been a brittle, damaged woman, whose great beauty, talent and enormous intelligence tapped right into the zeitgeist of the 1920s and catapulted her into a brief but meteoric career as a movie star. Laura Moriarty captures this difficult personality well when writing about the teenaged Louise, and one can relate to the unfortunate Cora's frustration with her wayward charge. But Cora, an intelligent, kind, but rather uptight woman, has come to New York with an agenda of her own, and when she returns to the orphanage where she grew up in search of her origins, she finds herself learning far more about herself than she has expected. While some of her subsequent life choices seem a little startling (and frankly hard to believe considering how conventional the character is at the start), the author is commendably even-handed and compassionate towards her characters. It would be easy, for example for her to have made villains of Cora's husband, who married her under false pretences and betrayed her, or the nuns who ran the orphanage from whence Cora was adopted (in a time when stories about adoption so often focus on cruelty towards the relinquishing mothers, the author's measured descriptions of the whys and wherefores of the adoption policies of the early 20th century are thankfully spot on). Even Louise's narcissistic, neglectful mother, surely the most unsympathetic character in the entire book, gets a fair hearing, which it seems doubtful she deserves.
Elizabeth McGovern gives an insensitive and intelligent reading of this imaginitive and unusual novel, and is a delight to listen to. I am happy to recommend this book, and hope others enjoy it as much as I did.
The Duke's Children is the last of the Palliser sequence, and probably the weakest as an actual novel. For those who have been following the adventures of Plantagenet Palliser, his family and friends from the very beginning, this final instalment immediately suffers a major blow with the premature death of Palliser's inimitable wife, Glencora, Duchess of Omnium. Over the course of a long and prolific career as a novelist, Trollope created many memorable characters, but the flighty Glencora is surely his masterpiece; so fully realised and full of life that it seems almost as incredible to the reader as to to her devastated widower, that she is dead. Always a distant, if worthy parent, Palliser suddenly finds himself like a ship without a rudder, and a virtual stranger to his three children. As his daughter and two sons enter adult life without their mother he finds himself totally ill-equipped to handle the social and emotional crises into which they precipitate him.
With Glencora gone, the burden of the plot falls mainly on her children who seem to resemble her more than their father. All of them, are shadows of their mother, and because there are three of them, the storyline sometimes lacks focus. The heir, Silverbridge, a rather limited but well-meaning young man, overly given to expensive and dubious exploits on the turf, appals his father (a former liberal prime minister) by deciding to enter politics on the Conservative side. His brother Gerald is an irresponsible university student. Their sister, Lady Mary, horrifies her father by engaging herself to a most unsuitable young ma. This makes her admittedly better than her brother, who manages to propose to two different girls at the same time, but her engagement becomes even most distressing to Palliser when he discovers that his late wife not only knew about, but encouraged the relationship. Unfortunately, none of the children are as entertaining as their late mother, and Silverbridge's bumbling forays into politics lack the incisive interest of his father's. This is not to say that The Duke's Children is a bad novel; on the contrary it is reasonably entertaining and anyone who has read the others will want to read this one. Nevertheless, it is impossible not to feel that Trollope was running out of steam when he wrote it.
As always, a brilliant reading by Timothy West.
This sprawling novel follows two main plots and sets of characters. Previous readers of the Palliser novels find Plantagenet Palliser, now Duke of Omnium and a member of the House of Lords, inveigled into becoming prime minister of an unstable coalition government. Meanwhile his wife, the inimitable Glencora, decides to reinvent herself as a grand political hostess, to her husband's exasperation and ultimate misfortune.
The second plot strand follows the story of Ferdinand Lopez, one of Trollope's most memorable villains. When Lopez courts Emily Wharton, her barrister father initially forbids the marriage to a "greasy Portuguese, probably a Jew", and indulges in one of the memorably xenophobic outbursts in the annals of fiction. Emily accuses her father of prejudice and eventually wins the right to marry Lopez; yet despite his racism, her father turns out to have been right about Lopez's character and motives. Trollope is always a keen observer of human psychology, and in Lopez he presents an extraordinary portrait of a narcissistic personality, who over the course of the novel subjects his wife and her father to escalating psychological abuse, while piece by piece losing his own grip on reality. When Lopez decides to enter politics as a liberal candidate, and is encouraged by the meddling Glencora Palliser, the two plot lines converge in a scandal which threatens to bring down Palliser's government.
I adore Trollope, and the Palliser novels are among the jewels in his crown. The Prime Minister contains some thrilling moments, but is a little marred by the last section of the book. After Lopez's death, which is surely one of the highpoints of the novel, the widowed Emily struggles to re-establish herself. As always, Trollope is psychologically spot on when he describes the victim mentality she has developed as a result of her husband's psychological abuse; but listening to her droning on about how she deserved the way she was treated becomes terribly tedious when repeated in chapter after chapter. Lopez might have been a bad egg, but he made the plot go like a firecracker when he was onstage, and without him, the storyline can't but suffer the loss. The political sections are amongst the best in these novels, but again, the most exciting bits occur earlier, and the last section altogether feels as if, like the coalition government, it is running out of steam. For this reason, I am only giving four stars instead of five to the actual story, but it's still a great listen, and no one can read these books quite like the incredible Timothy West.
Buzz Wexler is a middle-aged record company executive. Foul-mouthed, promiscuous, and narcissistic, there is, on the surface, not much to like about her. But Buzz is in for a shock: after years spent clawing herself to the top, a record company merger sees her sidelined into World Music and suddenly responsible for a group of Bulgarian folk singers, the Gorny Grannies, led by the irrepressible Lubka.
This is a funny book. Buzz is consistently amusing in her awfulness, and she is supported by a wonderful cast of characters including the five Grannies, a posse of Bulgarian gangsters, and Buzz's own elderly father, who is obsessed with the late Ronald Reagan. The story fizzes along, and is effortlessly brought to life by Tara Ward. The central joke about Bulgarians being backward is essentially the same one George Bernard Shaw used in Arms and the Man over a hundred years ago. I can't help thinking that real Bulgarians must get rather tired of being the butt of so many jokes about hygiene, but hopefully this book is not a candidate for translation.
There are a few swear words, if this bothers you. I am normally very sensitive to this, but was not offended in this case, as they were used sparingly and it was all contextual.
I should start by saying that I quite enjoyed this book. That said, however, the litany of complaints made by others about this novel and its sequel "All Clear" are largely justified, so it's really a matter of how interested you are in the war, or how much of a Connie Willis fan you are as to whether you'll stick with it.
As has been said before:Blackout/All Clear is a very flawed book. Sadly, the issues are largely editorial, ie avoidable. One overlong novel has been divided into two, whereas in fact the author should have been told to cut it by about two hundred pages. I can't remember when I last read a book that had so much redundancy. There are also stupid errors good editing should have picked up, such as Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" being called by its original American title of "Murder in the Calais Coach" (it was never called this in the UK); and constant mistakes concerning the differences between English and American usage. By the way, I am not even English but Australian; if I can pick up that a supposedly English character is talking like an American, then heaven help people in the UK. Nor does Connie Willis really grasp the subtleties of the British class system. One example will suffice: the character of Merope, pretending to be a servant, develops a romantic friendship with a young local clergyman. With due respect to the clergy, it is almost inconceivable that in 1940 a university educated Anglican priest would have become friends with an Irish maid, or had anything more than a strictly pastoral relationship with such a person. People just did not cross those sort of educational and class boundaries with the ease that they do now--even in wartime.
With regards to the narration, Katherine Kellgren is adequate. She has some very annoying vocal mannerisms, including some tortuous dipthongs and a rising inflection that nearly drove me crazy. But I did listen to it all the way through, so it was not quite a washout in the end.
Trollope was fascinated by contemporary politics, which are the common undercurrent of the six Palliser novels. He in fact ran unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate himself, and it's hard not to detect a particular fondess on the part of the author for Phineas Finn, who appears in several novels in the series, and who is the hero of two, this second installment, and book four, Phineas Redux.
Phineas Finn enters the House of Commons as an outsider on a number of counts: he is very young, he has no income (a real problem in the days when MPs received no salaries), he is not of particularly elevated social position, being the son of a country doctor, he is Irish, and he is a Roman Catholic. Despite these disadvantages, and repeated setbacks in the fields of politics, friendships and love, his charm, sociability, intelligence and determination drive a steady rise through the ranks of the House of Commons???until proposed legislation on the subject of Irish Tenant Rights poses a moral dilemma even Phineas cannot see a way out of.
All the Timothy West Trollope recordings are top notch, and this is no different. While this is probably one of the more "political" novels in the sequence, this should not put off anybody who has enjoyed the other novels, as it is all well explained, and the political side of the story is off-set with several subplots involving Phineas's private life--which, given that he is young, attractive, and has an irresistible eye for the ladies, is turbulent to say the least. Trollope is always sympathetic when depicting female characters, and Phineas's women friends, Lady Laura Standish, the beautiful heiress Violet Effingham, and the beguiling Austrian widow, Madame Max Goessler, are all fascinating in their own right.
It is worth listening to these novels in sequence if you can manage it, but not essential. The first in the series is Can You Forgive Her?, but you could easily start with Phineas Finn if you preferred.
This is the second Mrs Tim book, and I would recommend you are familiar with Mrs Tim of the Regiment before you start on this one. I think anyone who didn't know the series would be lost if they started here, as it is assumed you are familiar with the characters and situations. This is a very gentle story, which I enjoyed listening to for the most part. Not a lot happens: Mrs Tim goes off to the Scottish Highlands for a holiday with her friend, and that is about it. I would have preferred it if the narrator had made more effort to voice the characters; there are a few half-hearted Scottish accents here and there, but none of the characters really come alive. Probably best suited to fans of the author.
I was being kind when I gave this two stars. I love Star Trek, really like Jonathan Frakes as an actor, and am a fan of the whole romance between the characters of Will and Deanna. I don't usually care for Star Trek novels, but since I knew this particular title had a bit of a reputation as a fan favourite, I thought I would give it a go. Sorry. It is a silly, turgid story, the cuts don't help, and Mr Frakes doesn't do a great job of the reading. I tried to like it, but I couldn't get more than half way through before I gave up. Personally I would only recommend you buy it if you are a Star Trek completist, or you know you like the book.
This is the first novel in Trollope's "Palliser" series, introducing the central characters with the marriage of the flirtatious, flighty and beautiful Lady Glencora M'Cluskey and Plantagenet Palliser, rising Liberal politician and heir to the Duke of Omnium. Politics are never far away in these novels, but this particular installment in the series concentrates heavily on the dilemmas of two women, Lady Glencora, in love with a worthless reprobate, and married against her will to an earnest, good, but essentially dull man; and her cousin Alice Vavasor, who vacillates helplessly between two suitors, the handsome, good and safe John Grey, and her charismatic and dangerous cousin George, who shares her fascination with politics, and to whom she was once engaged.
No male Victorian novelist wrote more sympathetically about women than Trollope, but there is one issue on which he is perversely prejudiced, and that is in his belief that a woman, once she has given her heart and hand, should not change her mind, or ever fall in love with anybody else. In a previous novel, "The Small House at Allington", the heroine, Lily Dale, falls in love with a cad who jilts her, and then spends hundreds of pages refusing to marry a man who truly loves her, before finally dwindling into an old maid rather than betray her first love. Even at the time of publication, this was considered extremely unreasonable, and Trollope received many letters from irritated readers demanding that Lily should be allowed to marry her second suitor. (Modern readers generally feel more inclined to punch her.) At least by "Can You Forgive Her?", Trollope was more realistic on the subject: though Alice breaks off not one but two engagements, after many travails she is allowed a happy ending, and not even Trollope would have dared suggest that Glencora would have been happier with Burgo Fitzgerald.
All Timothy West's recordings of Trollope are brilliant and this is no exception. Highly recommended
This is a thought-provoking and comprehensive book on the last few weeks of Anne Boleyn's life. It persuasively explains her sudden fall from favour and traces the origins of the coup that destroyed her and her family. The actual narration is adequate, and there are some annoying mispronunciations of both English and foreign names which I imagine must have made the author grit her teeth--they certainly made me grit mine. Four stars for the content rather than the delivery.
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