In an odd-couple tale of sorts, the literary titan Samuel Johnson goes on a horseback tour across the Scottish Highlands and into the Western Islands with the young journalist James Boswell. Accomplished narrators, Patrick Tull and Alexander Spencer take charge of Johnson and Boswell's records, adding a fresh and intimate take on this fascinating journey. The narratives of these two men combine to form a most unique audiobook. A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland provides not only access to a rapidly evolving Scotland, but also insight into one of England's most renowned men of letters.
(P)1988 by Recorded Books, Inc.
"Delightful examples of language at its best, these tapes would be a meaningful addition to any serious literature collection." (Library Journal)
An interesting travelogue. It's billed as "unabridged," but it isn't, really. The publishers have combined parts of Johnson's "Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland" with parts of Boswell's "Tour of the Hebrides." Both books tell the story of the same journey, from very different points of view. The editing has been done carefully, so there's little overlap; when Johnson and Boswell both relate the same anecdote, one or the other has been chosen for this presentation. But a good bit of both books - especially Johnson's, the more discursive of the two - has been omitted; and the audiobook ended so abruptly that I wondered if part of it was missing.
On the other hand, taken for what it is - an invitation to sample the works of these two excellent men - it's a lovely and lively four-hour treat. Alexander Spencer is a creditable Boswell, and Patrick Tull, ever the gruff, gravelly narrator, is a wonderful Johnson. I would go so far as to say that if you want to stick your toe in the Johnson/Boswell stream, this is a good place to start.
I would love to see an audiobook based on the same idea - intertwined selections from the two books - but with fuller selections. The great thing about Johnson's book is that you really feel like you've been to Scotland; the great thing about Boswell's is that you really feel like you've been there with Johnson.
Footnote: with the exception of this audiobook, both men have been somewhat poorly served in audio. Boswell's life of Johnson is available in either a well-produced but massively abridged version, or a massively complete version with mediocre sound quality. What's needed is a well-produced, well-performed, and sensibly abridged version: 15-20 hours, maybe: enough to linger over some of the famous episodes but not so much that the pace lags. (There's a BBC dramatization available on Audible that I hope to review soon. It's a great listen, but again, it's mostly a "greatest hits" version.)
Johnson has been served even worse - in quantity, not in quality. Apart from this book and a recording or two of his novel "Rasselas," there are no audio editions of Johnson's prose. And Johnson's prose is brilliant: rolling, thunderous, incisive, honorable, and wise. His preface to Shakespeare is one of the greatest pieces of criticism ever written. His essays for The Idler, The Rambler, and The Adventurer are full of awesome turns of phrase and "aha!" moments. Couldn't somebody be persuaded to put together a 15-20 hour anthology of Johnson's writings? Patrick Tull is no longer with us, but maybe Kenneth Cranham could be persuaded to do the honors.
As it stands now, once your taste has been whetted by the "Hebrides" audiobook, there's nowhere much to go for more of the same except print. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
I wasn't too keen on 2 narrators at first, I thought the one voicing Samuel Johnson's part used way too much bombast. But before long I loved it and found it completely fit his words and personality. (I knew nothing of the man when I started reading it, if I had I would've realized the reading was perfect right from the get go.) This book was very interesting and funny!
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