©1973 Saul Bellow; (P)1992 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
This is a wonderful and compelling reading of a very good book: one that would be very easy to ruin with an unintelligent interpretation.
No, there is not a lot of "plot" per se and it is highly discursive: welcome to Bellow's world! There's a passage of several pages where Charlie considers the subject of productive inactivity from every possible angle, which struck me as almost a manifesto for the technique of the novel itself. Events in the outside world mainly serve to prompt ruminating, reflecting, and reminiscing.
But make no mistake: there is in fact a story, it features great, colorful characters, it's told in beautiful language, and it's very entertaining all the way through. It made me laugh out loud all the time. And finally, countless little plot threads that have meandered through the text for hours all get neatly tied up into a satisfying screwball ending.
But the book is not really about the destination. It's about the journey. The book is drenched with warm-hearted nostalgia, and a comprehensive generosity of spirit that is hard to find anywhere in the world, at any time. Charlie Citrine makes the world a bigger and friendlier place to be.
And again, this reader is probably the best possible reader they could have chosen for the part. I plan to give this book a second and third listen in the future. This definitely ranks up there with Ron Silver's reading of American Pastoral, George Guidall's reading of Zorba the Greek, and Donal Donelly's reading of Dubliners as one of the best audiobook performances I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
Thickly spread with self-reflection, this story seems to move slowly, but each aside engrosses the reader and moves the story along. Filled with social commentary that will sparkle for decades.
The reader is tireless and without error. He renders the first-person Charlie in a believable and consistent voice.
Business Physicist and Astronomer
Herzog! Bam! Henderson the Rain King! Bam! The Victim! Bam! The Adventures of Augie March! Bam!
I seem to have fallen into a Saul Bellow groove. I've enjoyed (Very good to Great) every audio title until this one. I wasn't crazy about the narration but the reader is supposed to be jaded and snarky so I'll give Hurt a pass though I believe much of the Bellow philosophy of life is lost in the monotonous delivery.
I don't think this is Bellow's best but it's still got plenty of meat and a lot of it very tender and delicious near the ample bone. There's a bit of fat and a vein of gristle that makes the book a little dated---it's destined to be a period piece.
The biggest complaint is the awful, tin can like audio quality. I tried all the formats and it made no difference. I thought my ear buds were failing so I got new ones. This book just has lousy sound. If there was another version, read by someone else, I'd ask Audible for a credit. But, alas, there isn't and I may come back to this again so I'll keep it.
I wouldn't recommend it to you.
Chris Reich, The Business Physicist
I really enjoyed this book. Journey into his mind. Much to digest over time. The writing was truly mesmerizing, no matter what he was talking about, no matter how gross or how lofty, I was captivated.
The first audio book I've not been able to finish. The narration is so bad that I found myself struggling to understand what he says. He drops the ends of words, trails away at the ends sentences, and makes the listener work to parse out what he's saying. Listen to the sample - when I first heard this bit on my iPhone, I couldn't tell if he was talking about "the melancholy of affluence" or "the melancholy of Athens"! Too many instances like this make you too aware of the narrator and knock you out of the story. A shame.
The pace of this book is pedestrian at best with the main character rather self absorbed and brooding. The relationships tend to be self serving and hedonistic. I found the reading experiance left me depressed and hollow. While the main character, Charlie, had many redeeming qualities he seemed to have no spiritual foundation or sense of where these moral imperatives came from. Even with all his introspective broodings he was clueless about why he acted the way he did or was offended by the actions of the other characters when they crossed certain moral boundries.
The voice drops to almost a whisper at end of sentences. Unable to make out what he is saying due to his mumble type tone at end of sentences. Had to stop listening and read the hardback.
Wow! Bellow's prose sets the highest mark, and he's hilariously funny in dealing with "the meaning of life" and America in the 20th century. And, if your an intellectual poseur, who can't stop theorizing, it's the book for you. Big ideas, comedy, irony, sex, and all wrapped up in the language of a genius. Laugh out loud picaresque, crazy plotting, a richly complex and sympathetic narrator, wonderful minor characters, razor sharp observations, wit by the truckload.
"Worth the effort"
On reflection, this was quite a remarkable book. At first, I really struggled to follow the narrative, as there were so many tangential strands of the story and I was in serious danger of giving up. However, I'm really glad I stayed with it and I would advise just relaxing and not worrying about trying to find the 'real' plot - just enjoy Bellow's flights of intellectual fancy and allow yourself to wallow in the sublime turns of phrase and the incredible descriptive depths he goes to. I think he won the Nobel prize for this book and you can understand why. It really does become utterly engrossing at times and, despite his oft atrocious over-intellectualising, Charlie Citrine (having to guess at spellings, is one downside of audible books!) becomes truly vivid and lifelike.
I'm not well-up on my regional American accents, but the reader did a great job and seemed to bring a genuine Chicago-feel to the whole novel. Different characters were effortlessly portrayed with only the slightest of vocal changes and the intricacies of the fairly taxing philosophising were navigated as well as possible.
All in all, I was genuinely saddened when the book came to its predictably unpredictable end. Beautiful.
"A Great Novel"
I remember struggling with Saul Bellow at school - Henderson the Rain King, I think it was. So I approached this book with some trepidation. But it is excellent - I love that sharp fluid prose of the best American writers. The novel itself is what you would call multi-layered. The story itself is quite interesting but what really makes the book is the clever way the author juxtaposes the storyline with the philosophical musings of the two main characters; at the beginning I could not believe that the author was being so serious, but by the end the subtlety of the presentation became more clear. The contrast between the main narrator's serious approach to matters intellectual and the seemingly luckless course if his life, and how the two are eventually reconciled is done with great generosity of heart. I loved it.
The narration is beautifully paced and does a great deal to bring out what the book is about.
"Eat my words"
That’s what the narrator seems to like to do. Perhaps it’s just me, or that I listen to audiobooks on my headphones and am sensitive to the dynamic range I should subject my ears to, but he eats words up, rendering them inaudible. The prosodic contours that the narrator chooses to parse the cadences of Saul Bellow’s masterly writing plunges the trailing bits of nearly every unit of diction below my audible threshold. This is quite annoying as it makes me lose words that have been carefully chosen by the author, or crank up the volume, in which case his voice takes on a piercing rasp which is also a source of discomfort. I persisted with this for a while, taking it in in short stretches, but I am strongly inclined to return the audiobook and pick up the paperback instead. I have nothing negative to say about the novel, but then this is one of Bellow’s famous works....
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