In this exotic landscape Harriet gets to know her new husband and to wonder at the complexity of the apparently simple man she had married.
©1960 The Estate of Olivia Manning
I had picked up the Balkan Trilogy several times and never managed to get past the first few pages so I thought I'd try the audiobook and I was immediately hooked. Guy's cluelessness, Harriet's petulance, Yaki's pathetic Yaki-ness, is all perfectly rendered. Once hooked, I easily moved on to the second book without needing the audiobook. But for the third and final installment I returned to the audiobook as if meeting with old friends.
Poor Yaki--he always needs a meal. Although one worries buying him one meal would somehow bind you to him for life.
Like Tolkein's Lord off the Rings Trilogy, the books in The Balkan Trilogy don't really stand alone and need to be read as one long book.
"Excellent Reading of a Fascinating Book"
Having both read Olivia Manning’s great trilogy and watched the TV adaptation (twice) I was somewhat wary of embarking on this reading, fearing that it might not accord with my own interpretation of the characters or those of the actors who portrayed them so well on the screen.
I need not have worried. As soon as she got into her stride Harriet Walter’s reading was quite brilliant and revealed many different aspects of the characters that I had not thought about.
Having finished the first volume it was with great impatience that I awaited my next monthly allocation. I have now listened to all three books and have no hesitation in recommending them either to new listeners or any of Miss Manning’s existing fans.
"Wonderful cast of characters, starring Bucharest!"
This is an involving, atmospheric and intense account of a motley group of British and Romanian characters in Bucharest, watching, fearing, sensing the ever closer presence of the Germans in 1939/40. The book ends with the fall of France and the apparent impotence of the British Army to protect Europe and especially Bucharest and is notable for providing a brilliant portrait of this gilded and vulnerable city, its people, the buildings, the cafes and hotels. It centres around a newly married English couple and their friends, including a pathetic White Russian English eduated prince down on his luck who scrounges off anyone and everyone. Olivia Manning's brilliance lies her characterisation, including creating a potentially dislikeable herione with whom you continue to epmpathise.
It is the first of the Balkan trilogy by Olivia Manning following the couples' flight from Bucharest to, eventually, Cairo. In its scope and setting it could be compared to The Alexandria Quartet (Gerald Durrell) and even The Raj Quartet (Paul Scott) though both of these have the reputation of dealing with this period with more political intensity and psychologically insight. I'm not sure I agree with this view.
It takes an actress of great range to portray the cast of characters covered by this book. She gives them all a distinct and recognisable voice. In particular she manages to portray both the bitchiness of Harriet, the heroine, as well as her more admirable qualities.
"Absorbing and superbly narrated"
I recently finished reading Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy, of which this is the first volume and found it to be absorbing and increasingly gripping as the story went on, a real page turner.
Apart from the many very well drawn characters, prime amongst them being Guy Pringle, what I found most interesting were the vivid and memorable descriptions of the political and physical backdrop - you really get a feel for the time and place and the tremendous uncertainties which people must have experienced living in a foreign country close to the onset of war.
Harriet Walter narrates all three volumes superbly. Her pace and timing are nigh-on perfect and she draws the characters - men and women - with a sure touch, particularly Guy Pringle, his long-suffering wife, Harriet, and the incomparable Prince Yakimov..
As I said a real page turner. Indeed, listening to the trilogy inspired me to buy Olivia Manning's continuation of the tale of Guy and Harriet in the "Levant Trilogy" - alas book version - and I thoroughly enjoyed that too. She is a much under-rated writer.
Strongly recommended, particularly if you are interested in novels set in Europe just before the outbreak of the second world war.
"Will always love this book"
Harriet Walter does a brilliant job of making a favourite book (and TV series) even better. Guy Pringle is one of the most memorable and maddening characters in English literature - love him and hate him. I see the next book in the series has just been released. Hope you plan to publish all of them.
"First of a trilogy will i buy the next?"
Beautifully read. The story was a slow burner for me - atmospheric and strangely compelling. I enjoyed it but would not rave about it. I may come back to the second book mainly because i am a fan of Harriet Walter's readings.
"Powerful insight into Brits abroad in WW2"
Manning writes with assurance about this complicated early period of World War II . She clearly knew what she was writing about but besides her formidable understanding of that period of history the human interest is not lost and she writes convincingly about emotions, friendships and the complexities of a young marriage. I cannot wait to listen to the next part. Harriet Waters is an excellent narrator and handleds the various accents required of her pretty well. A slight criticism would be that on occasions she does not complete a word (ie plurals are pronounced as singulars) and allows her voice to drift away. Anyone not familiar with the English language might not know what the word is sometimes! That minor aspect apart I have not enjoyed such intelligent, insightful writing for a while besides learning about Romania and Britain during the War.
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