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I love words that can take me into other worlds.
These stories are wonderfully produced. Somerset Maugham isn’t for everyone. His stories, now 75-80, were written in an era less respectful of different races. However, if you get past the irritating terms he uses to denote non-whites, you will see that his real contempt is for the pompous but so often stupid colonials who thought, simply because their country had claimed another, that they personally were rulers and that their worth was so much more than it was. Despite the unevenness of the stories (which knocked it down a star in my rating), Maugham never loses his deliciously scathing wit, razor-like intelligence, and acute eye for the wicked or ironic observation. Moreover, his stories offers a glimpse into a lost world. Having lived over a decade in Southeast Asia, I loved his ability to call up the steamy languidness of the tropics.
However, what makes these stories genuine delights, is the reader. Robert Powell is the master of any accent—and can do 4 or 5 characters at once, keeping each of their voices distinct. Truly a bravura performance that makes for a great audio-book.
You can't go wrong. Somerset Maugham with his sophisticated understanding and emrace of the ambiguities of the human character. And a great reader. Savor . . .
I have heard Robert Powell on other audiobooks and enjoyed his readings very much, and I had read other books and short stories by Somerset Maugham, so I felt that I sort of knew what I would be getting with this download. I enjoyed each story and Powell's delivery very much. I have been thinking if this title would be a good introduction to either this author or this reader to someone unfamiliar with both, and I think it might be. Maugham's writings straddle the popular/literary fence, and Powell is a wonderfully evocative reader. Anyone who enjoyed The Painted Veil would I think enjoy these stories, too.
God bless Robert Powell. I never cared for him much as an actor. I remember, decades ago, finding him off-putting in Ken Russell's "Mahler," and even in the second remake of "The 39 Steps" -- which was done in period and so by rights should have been great fun -- he didn't make, to my mind, a particularly appealing Richard Hannay.
But now I've actually gone and bought one of the Audible versions of that Buchan thriller, simply because Powell is the narrator. And the reason I have such faith that he'll do a superb job (which I can already tell from the four-minute sample) is that he does such a magnificent one with these tales of Maugham's.
In fact, I would say this is probably the single best audiobook performance I've ever heard. Anyone who has doubts about the worth of "books on tape" should hear these stories read aloud; they are, in a sense, living arguments for the audiobook form. I had already encountered a couple of the tales in a print collection, but they're much better here. Powell gets every sentence, every lush description, every character, male or female, exactly right, and he makes these irresistible but somewhat contrived stories work as well as they ever possibly could.
When it comes to the voices, he strikes just the right balance. One of the most unpleasant and annoying things about hearing books read aloud, I've found, in both fiction and nonfiction, is the assumption of many a professional narrator that he has to try to duplicate a character's voice, whether it's Winston Churchill's or that of an old woman or a sultry femme fatale. That approach -- and it's the most common one -- always sounds phony to me, and it's downright jarring to hear someone who's been narrating in normal tones suddenly break into a growl or a falsetto or an exaggerated Cockney accent in imitation of some character, before returning to his normal voice. But Powell, fortunately, doesn't overdo it. He suggests without actually mimicking.
The stories themselves -- minor classics, really -- are pleasantly old-fashioned. Tale after tale offers wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of verdant nature, tropical heat, boats put-putting up jungle rivers, shipboard life, pre-war hotels, clubs filled with British colonials (lots of large men with ruddy faces), and other enjoyable staples of the romantic old Far East.
The tales are also driven, for better or worse, by old-fashioned concerns about class, society, reputation, sexual propriety, morality, etc. And they're all designed to hook you effectively from the start -- or at least I was hooked. As I said, they are awfully hard to resist.
Yet none of the stories are completely satisfying, or convincing, or surprising. Far too often, I found myself thinking, Wait, no one would really behave that way. Frequently -- in fact, it's almost a constant in these tales -- characters' personalities seem to turn on a dime. Hatred turns suddenly, unconvincingly, to Christian love; or a devoted wife's affection turns, in an instant, to utter hatred or physical loathing; or a young man's admiration for a woman, along with sexual attraction, turns instantly, for purposes of the plot, to homicidal enmity. These transformations are dramatic, but I didn't believe them.
Which is why I think these readings may actually be better than the stories themselves deserve.
"Far Eastern Tales (Unabridged)"
Spell-binding story-telling in the inestimable tones of Robert Powell.
"Evocative of the age but a bit depressing"
Somerset Maugham's a wonderfully observant writer and Robert Powell has a beautifully modulated voice and a superb grasp of accents, so I was really looking forward to this audiobook. The stories are certainly evocative of the age (1920s), the steamy Far Eastern locations, and the insulated British way of life in those colonial outposts. Unfortunately I found the themes in the majority of these tales to be rather depressing: loneliness, marriage break-ups, murder and cowardice. So although I found many of the stories interesting, I won't be listening to this again.
One star off immediately because the audiobook's been lazily chopped up into 1-hour segments, which makes it impossible to find the start of each story.
Held my attention throughout . Maugham is not read much now but his style is timeless
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