Williston Bibb Barrett is a rather unusual and inquisitive young Southerner with a special gift for cultivating the possibilities of life. He suffers from occasional bouts of amnesia and disconcerting attacks of déjà vu. He clings to certain old-fashioned notions of behavior, and yet he finds himself constantly impelled to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations. And he lives with the secret suspicion that the great world catastrophe that everyone fears will happen has already happened.
The novel follows Will Barrett’s adventures as he becomes involved in the complex troubles, loves, and fortunes of a Southern family, the Vaughts, that is living in the shadow of their youngest son’s illness. With settings ranging from New York to Alabama, Louisiana to New Mexico, this is an ambitious, funny, compulsively readable novel about the dilemmas of modern man.
©1966 Walter Percy (P)2000 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Splendid…. A beautifully textured novel…. A distinguished work of art." (New York Times Book Review)
"Breaks your heart in the midst of laughter." (Philadelphia Inquirer)
"Nothing I can say about this novel will convey the sense of constant delight that it provides, a rich essence that is always right.… It is art - and more vivid and alive and meaningful than our own living…tender-funny and full of references to things we were certain no one else had ever noticed." (Houston Post)
I have long admired Walker Percy and his novels, which embody his perceptions about 20th century America. I read most of them (in book form) 10 or 20 years ago, and as a kind of project, I have started to "reread" some as audiobooks. Do they "hold up" after 20 years?
I began with Love in the Ruins (my favorite) and enjoyed it very much.
But The Last Gentlemen is not one of Percy's best novels. Percy's characters, even in the best novels--The Moviegoer, Love in the Ruins, The Second Coming--tend to be enactments of ideas . . . types. In the best novels, they somehow "work."
But in The Last Gentlemen, every character seems especially cardboard-like. The dialog is stilted and artificial. Will Barrett's constantly repeating the words of others as he wanders uncomprehending through the existential wonderland of 20th century America becomes, especially with Wolfram Kandinsky's narration, just plain irritating.
Which brings me to the narrator. The habitual way Kandinsky inflected his tones nearly made me throw my ipod against a wall. His reading sounded like the narrations in 1950's newsreels or the travel featurettes that used to play before movies in theaters. But Kandinsky's manner is so exaggerated and the pattern of his inflections so repetitious, they seem like a parody. His whimpery, whiny voicing of Kitty Vaught made it IMPOSSIBLE to imagine how Will (or anyone) could fall in love with her.
I kept asking myself, "How did this guy get the job of recording an audiobook???" At times, I was gritting my teeth (literally), trying to get through a chapter.
I intend to continue revisiting The Moviegoer and The Second Coming through audiobooks, but I would NOT be doing so if Kandinsky were narrating them.
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