It is 1905. Asta and her husband, Rasmus, have come to East London from Denmark with their two little boys. With Rasmus constantly away on business, Asta keeps loneliness and isolation at bay by writing a diary. These diaries, published over 70 years later, reveal themselves to be more than a mere journal. For they seem to hold the key to an unsolved murder and to the mystery of a missing child. It falls to Asta's granddaughter, Ann, to unearth the buried secrets of nearly a century before.
©2006 Kingsmarkham Enterprises Ltd (P)2010 AudioGO Ltd
Originally published in the US as "Anna's Book" this Ruth Rendell novel provides an exceptional portrait of three generations of woman in London from 1905 until the mid-sixties. Deservedly a modern classic, the reading perfectly matches and enhances the text. Ms Walter subtly differentiates each of the three women and finds every moment of humor, frustration and suspense as the diaries are used to solve a sixty year old mystery. Leisurely paced this is a novel more about character than event and an extraordinary listening experience.
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
It is 1905 and Asta Westerby and her husband Rasmus have just moved to England from Denmark with their two boys, with a third child on the way, which Asta dearly hopes will be a girl. Asta tells her story through a series of journals, in which she writes sporadically about various events, describing her family life; her marriage, her children, her maid, which make up her whole universe. Asta has an independent spirit and was not necessarily cut out to be a wife and mother, but she accepts her lot because other alternatives don't seem appealing or feasible. But this is only part of the story, because the other part takes place in a contemporary setting, sometime in the 90s, which is when this book was published. Asta's granddaughter Ann has come into her inheritance now that her aunt Swanny has passed away. Swanny was Asta's favourite child and having discovered her mother's journals after her passing, decided to have them translated and published with tremendous success. Now Ann is responsible for the manuscripts and intends to continue publishing additional volumes. But there are various mysteries to be found in what have become historical artifacts. Swanny was never able to learn the truth about her true identity after receiving an anonymous letter telling her she was not in fact Asta's child, something which Asta herself refused to confirm on way or another. Is the answer to be found in one of the volumes? But there are also mentions about a horrible crime which was a sensation in it's time, with Alfred Roper accused of murdering his wife and the disappearance of their young toddler Lizzie. Was Swanny that Roper child? And if not, what happened to Lizzie? These are mysteries which Ann and a friend producing a movie about the murder mystery are out to solve.
The premise of this novel seemed very interesting, but I found the story very confusing, with two seemingly completely separate stories and families that had nothing in common somehow connected in a way which is only revealed at the very end. Perhaps this is a story which benefits from a second reading. Then again, perhaps my own mind is too muddled to understand a plot which doesn't follow a familiar narrative style. I also kept wondering why Asta's journals had become such hugely successful books, as they didn't seem to make for such gripping reading on their own. Don't let my confused ramblings about this book influence you though, because it seems to have met with a lot of appreciation with other readers.
I loved this audiobook - definitely one of my favorites so far. Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine is a superb mystery writer. I've listened to, or read, everything she's ever written.
The most memorable parts of the book for me were in the early chapters where Asta writes in her diary of her early life after immigrating from Denmark to London with her husband, the birth of their children, of Swanny's place in the family, and their rise from near poverty to a life of upper class wealth. Asta herself was a contradiction: tough and cold sometimes, and yet warm and motherly too. She was a survivor first of all and you get the feeling that she would endure anything to get what she wanted. The psychological makeup and interraction between Rendell's characters are what makes her stuff so good.
Harriet Walter brought life to the characters with her scandinavian accent and superb narration. There's nothing worse for an audiobook experience than a bad narrator or better than a good one.
I loved it - from the first word to the last. I looked forward to my long commutes so that I could listen to the book without interruption.
Yes. Even though you know the ending there are still layers not captured in the first listening.
The intrigue, the complex layers and the number of stories within a story.
Excellent reader. She really became part of the story.
Twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Ruth Rendell is a great modern novelest, especially when she writes as Barbara Vine. This one is less weird but much more complex than most, and the main character is fascinating.
Mom in Movement
Absolutely. Harriet Walter's reading is so extraordinarily good, so convincing, I would listen to the book again just to appreciate it all over again.
The story is generational, and told from the points of view of three women in the same family over the course of a century. All the characters are compelling, and Walter makes them all distinct so that they all draw you in.
First of all, since Asta's character is originally from Denmark, it's important that the reader be able to do a convincing Danish accent for large segments of the book, because her background is so much a part of Asta's character, and the themes of immigrants, changing identities and self-definition and re-definition are at the core of the novel. Walter produces these different voices, accents and characters with seeming ease, and this is saying quite a lot, because there are sections here and there in which she must actually speak a few lines in Danish. I don't know whether Walter actually speaks the language, but even if she was only well coached to be able to deliver the requisite lines, it was very convincing. But more generally speaking, the quality that Walter brings to her reading is a sort of unhurried thoughtfulness that pervades every line. You never feel her either rushing or pushing or bringing herself forward in the performance. Rather, she uses her beautiful, soft-spoken voice to give the characters life. Except, of course, when a character is brusque, or tough or some other quality that requires vocal strength or harshness, which Walter then also delivers. One of her funnier characterizations (among many fine ones) is that of Lisa, a rather vulgar young American girl. Often British actors over-simplify American accents, over-emphasizing "r"s and flat "a"s and not really getting the vowels sounds right, or being specific enough about our regional accents. Walter does NOT fall into this trap. Her Lisa was, again, utterly convincing, and I could not even recognize Walter's own voice in her portrayal.
Rather than make me laugh or cry, the book kept me enthralled and I couldn't put it down; I just had to listen to it over the better part of two days straight. None of the characters are particularly sentimental; this is Barbara Vine, after all.
Well, obviously, I think if anyone who likes psychological mystery is really going to enjoy this book. In Asta's Book, Barbara Vine finds a perfect interpreter in Harriet Walter.
I can't imagine anyone who would not find this book tedious.
There could be fewer characters and generations; speedier, tighter plot development; more suspense instead of the promise of it.
The narrator was excellent.
All of them.
This book is really lovely. Kind of a sleepy mystery wrapped in a sleepy mystery. It was sad, and happy, and touching. Asta is a super dynamic character. I couldn't decide whether to love her or hate her. And I suppose that is the affect that Vine was going for. I really solid book that almost anyone would enjoy.
If you are not a speaker of danish and not aware, as i was not, that the pronunciation is not correct, then the delivery of this captivating story is near perfect. It is unfortunate to give such a quality novel and beautiful reading an average rating of three stars, as the previous reviewer did, on a point which will be irrelevant to most listeners. One of the best Barbara Vine stories read with feeling.
If I could give this book 10 stars I would - what an amazing story, and so well read - I usually prefer male narrators, but Harriet Walter (an amazing actress!) does this justice, and more. Because the story is so long I HAD to put it down, but would have much preferred not to... Highly recommended.
"It all depends ..."
It all depends on if you can say r?dgr?d med fl?de. Harriet Walter has played Hedda Gabler in the past, so that may explain the Norwegian lilt but not the mispronunciation of Danish names and places. It wouldn't matter so much if there weren't lots of references to the language in the book. I expected better from such a good actor. This is Barbara Vine at her best and it's unabridged. It should have been an all time favourite, (especially for someone with Danish roots) but I can only give it 3 stars.
If you don't know Danish from Dutch and it's all Scandiwegian to you, then it won't matter and you can get on with enjoying the book.
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