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John L Murphy

Los Angeles
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The Everlasting Man audiobook cover art

Need to read this as well as hear it

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-08-18

Is there anything you would change about this book?

G.K. Chesterton typifies an less hurried age of prose, when reiteration and repetition conveyed the style of an orator or pundit. He did well at this, but it leads to, well, repetition.

Would you be willing to try another book from G. K. Chesterton? Why or why not?

Yes, I already heard Orthodoxy read by Derek Perkins. That went by too rapidly, and I had to read chapters after I'd listened to them. This double take does enhance comprehension. Chesterton can be enjoyed by ear, but the eye's needed to catch what the ear let slip by.

Which character – as performed by John Franklyn-Robbins – was your favorite?

If he channels GKC, he does it well. He adapts a speaking style I imagine close to the original, more dated, more hesitant and chortling depending on the mood, which works.

Was The Everlasting Man worth the listening time?

Yes, as it made me consult the book more closely. But I admit that GKC on audio alone does not do him justice. The skill of John Franklyn-Robbins aside, GKC hammers home so many paradoxes and inversions that, overly clever or slyly observed, they reward you most in print. The torrent of GKC at times can overwhelm at least the likes of muddle-headed me.

Any additional comments?

I wish more of GKC than the Fr. Brown mysteries and the few "top picks" from his prolific career were judiciously edited and compiled to audio. This may attract more listeners who become readers, and whatever the strengths and many weaknesses of the author, he's worth pondering. His age feels far removed from ours, until he hits on a relevant target which outlasts the fads and fashions of the hour. Which is one of his central messages, after all.

Siddhartha audiobook cover art

Down by the river

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-25-17

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

If my friend wanted to learn about a pioneering tale based on the Buddha, yes. But if my friend had little patience for a slow pace, sonorous tone, and sober set of musings, no.

If you’ve listened to books by Hermann Hesse before, how does this one compare?

Not applicable

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

Firdous Bamji has a steady pace. He intones this. That suits Herman Hesse's style, But it may madden a listener or reader wanting action, humor, or repartee. There is almost none of these aspects. On the other hand, John McDonagh delivers the intro and the informative afterword by scholar Ralph Friedman with more energy and an avuncular attitude.

Do you think Siddhartha needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

No. The grand vision of everything that culminates this saga suffices. Words after it would be superfluous. The story ends where it should.

Any additional comments?

I have read this twice before, once in the once-common New Directions 1951 Hilda Rosner translation, and a few years ago in the talented translator Joachim Neugroschel's version. I kept wondering despite the latter's skill what I was missing. After hearing it, I admit I understand it better, but the novella still leaves me underwhelmed. Hesse adopts the grandiloquent manner of his Eastern inspirations, but his results feel like the century old that they nearly are. Others may welcome such a meditative tale. I am sympathetic, but I would have liked more wit, exuberance, or entertainment to leaven the holier-than-thou atmosphere

Romeo and Juliet: A Novel audiobook cover art

Star-crossed lovers, and then some

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-22-17

Would you consider the audio edition of Romeo and Juliet: A Novel to be better than the print version?

One cannot compare this audio adaptation to Shakespeare's original play, but as a freely inspired fictionalization of a fiction, it's insightful, thoughtful, and intelligent entertainment.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Romeo and Juliet: A Novel?

No spoilers, so only two. The fight between Tybalt with Mercutio and then Romeo is paced well. Similarly, the lovers meet and exchange verses from the Song of Songs in memorable and appropriate fashion. David Hewson's book and Richard Armitage's dramatization combine to enrich what in lesser hands could have sounded cliched or rehashed.

Which character – as performed by Richard Armitage – was your favorite?

I liked Friar Lawrence and his confrere (whom you will meet). They make a convincing pair of friars (not monks!) and their reactions and actions as they are caught up in the plot widen its scope. I also admired the cameo from Isabella, regent of Mantua, an unforgettable "type"

If you could take any character from Romeo and Juliet: A Novel out to dinner, who would it be and why?

The nurse. She deserves a good meal and some chat as she earned it. Her role is played broadly at the start by Armitage, but as with many in his wide range of British accents applied to indicate class distinctions adroitly, she gains depth as the storyline complicates.

Any additional comments?

This third in a series with A.J. Hartley for Hamlet + Macbeth lacks a partner-writer. Hewson's on his own. Hamlet (with Armitage) remains my favorite, but like Macbeth (Alan Cumming performing), the action and tension heighten and the tiny hints in the original drama are elaborated and incorporated with admirable skill, memorable language (no easy feat considering the source), and a determination to avoid the clunky or the sentimental trope.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Macbeth: A Novel audiobook cover art

The Hill of Credulity

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-13-17

Where does Macbeth: A Novel rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Very evocative setting and wonderful narration: high up on my list

What other book might you compare Macbeth: A Novel to and why?

I heard the authors' adaptation of Hamlet immediately prior. I liked that so much I decided to try this. (Now I'm listening to one of the authors' version of Romeo + Juliet). The novelization of Shakespeare is a great idea--intelligently executed and imaginatively delivered.

What about Alan Cumming’s performance did you like?

His Scots accent wonderfully enlivens and chills the reader. I may be the only listener who had never heard this actor's voice before. His brogue enhances the landscape powerfully.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. The one slight drawback of this compared to Hamlet was that not every scene gripped me. Not sure if this is due to the source material or the fictionalization and expansion. While the play as heard remained smartly done and well written, it had a bit less inherent interest. Unlike Hamlet, the authors chose not to organize material into five acts. This may have blurred some events and connections. Admittedly, I know Hamlet very well from frequent study, while Macbeth has been left (no offense!) on my Shakespeare shelf by comparison.

Any additional comments?

Again, the concept of these adaptations is wonderful. Alan Cumming makes this worth a listen by nearly anyone. As it's been decades since I read this in high school, it's a testament to the story how much came back into my memory, thanks to author and most of all narrator.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: A Novel audiobook cover art

The ghost in your ear

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-01-17

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, anyone who's enjoyed the original play (or maybe found it daunting--as it is!) will like this adaptation. It's as if backstories of all the characters (and a few more added judiciously) enliven the events as we're used to seeing them performed. It supplements the play well.

What other book might you compare Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: A Novel to and why?

Hard to do this. Perhaps one of Beckett or T.S. Eliot's characters? The existentialist turn as one of the authors notes in the afterword colors our reaction to Hamlet. But this adaptation attempts to flesh out the earlier folio form of the play, and to reveal motivations that in the play as we know it might have been overshadowed. Maybe Oedipus in his haunted torment?

What does Richard Armitage bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He handles the range of accents well. An added character, a Scot, allows him to try out one in particular. His women are a bit strained as he delivers their dialogue, but that reflects their tension, for all involved here are uneasy, rattled, paranoid, and grasping as the case may be.

If you could rename Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: A Novel, what would you call it?

The ghost in your ear--a phrase uttered by a particularly apt character. It fits perfectly.

Any additional comments?

Avoid finding out any spoilers. The fun of this adaptation is listening to how much with which you are familiar, and then how the authors and performer enliven and enrich the potential within the minds of many characters. Some ingenious dramatizations and elaborations will follow, and the authors and performer understand this very daunting and sometimes still enigmatic drama well. It's clever without being cute, and it's an intelligent interpretation.

At the Existentialist Café audiobook cover art

The search for authenticity

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-28-17

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

For the quality of the writing and delivery of this history of an idea, yes. Both stand out.

Would you be willing to try another book from Sarah Bakewell? Why or why not?

Her book on Montaigne apparently is more a life-and-times than a critique of his Essays. I'd prefer the latter. She is engaging, but parts of this could not sustain my interest or alertness.

What about Antonia Beamish’s performance did you like?

She pronounces the French names with meticulous care. It's fun to hear her flatten her voice for Americans quoted. She conveys this formidable material as if the ideas just occurred to her, Normally I see she reads romances and genre fiction, but I encourage her to take on more intellectual material. She has a gift of staying erudite while reliably entertaining.

What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

Simone Weil's curious life and self-engineered fate I knew of, but not as much her background as to such as Heidegger. The most interesting tidbit; that Terence Malick began as a philosopher studying that same man, before he channeled his search into film making.

Any additional comments?

More on the afterlife of the characters and their impact beyond the Beats. Sarah Bakewell tries her best to sum this up in a coda. But she does this and judges Sartre vs. Heidegger too. She needed to take more time to explore this. Also, I was surprised at the seeming absence of talk about the divine or the numinous, outside of H's mystic quest. Given some remained believers as well as existentialists (as in Simone Weil, who could have been a memorable character given a larger role) consideration of the varieties of this approach would have broadened its scope. Its depth is apparent, but sections of this left me sleepy.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Notes from Underground audiobook cover art

The first modern anti-hero?

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-14-17

Would you listen to Notes from Underground again? Why?

The later parts of the first section prefigure how 2=+2=5 types of control are taking us over. In our age where algorithms are praised, this is sobering.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

The introduction with the Man's take on the struggle to conform to rational order is the most interesting. Least interesting is the lengthy build-up to the meeting with Liza. This dragged.

What about D. B. C. Pierre’s performance did you like?

Finally he was able to get some dialogue in, halfway into the main part. He did well. He also contributes an eight minute afterword that I found apt, as he finds overlaps with his own writing career, as well as the Man's situation and that of his author. He leaves you thinking.

If you could take any character from Notes from Underground out to dinner, who would it be and why?

Liza, as I felt sorry for her having to put up with the machinations of the Man. She needs a good meal, too, and a genuinely sympathetic ear.

Any additional comments?

Good match of Pierre + D. I hope he does more audiobooks.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful

Notes from a Dead House audiobook cover art

Exposed the tsarist prison system

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-12-17

What did you like best about Notes from a Dead House? What did you like least?

I liked the fact that Dostoevsky created a fictionalized account of his real-life experiences in the Western Siberian prison he spent four brutal years. I liked least the fact that the serialized nature of this 1861-3 meant it felt uneven, as if the author is trying out his skill. Which he certainly was, but the rambling and digressive and attenuated pace can weary.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

Editing some of the chapters. It's heresy to say this about one of the most talented authors of fiction, but if a stronger hand had controlled this, a tighter, less ambling style would help.

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

Stefan Rudnicki has a deep baritone and a somewhat mechanical delivery. His slight "Slavic" accent does add verisimilitude. He loosens up a bit towards the conclusion. But he cannot render dialogue or characters very well. He has a rather robotic manner which feels odd.

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

Yes, as long as it was briskly paced. There's lots of potential material for lots of drama.

Any additional comments?

Sobering that the author, who had to avoid censorship by reworking some elements to tell a better and more publishable tale, had one of the arguably milder fates. He did not have to walk three years to Eastern Siberia as some prisoners did, even before they entered prison. And anywhere that 500 lashes are seen as a "light" punishment raises reminders of how cruel prisons have been and remain. At least this novel helped reform the tsarist ones.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

Anna Karenina audiobook cover art

Cries + whispers

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-09-17

What made the experience of listening to Anna Karenina the most enjoyable?

While many reviewers did not like the sudden "cries and whispers" that David Horovitch dramatized (more like a stage performance or film than a conventional "reading"), I liked them. I heard this on headphones, as it's not the kind of narrative for background or casual listening in the car, for instance. Horowitch proves himself capable of a daunting challenge.

What other book might you compare Anna Karenina to and why?

I'd finished "War + Peace" after years of on-off reading not long ago. But that is more of an historiography-meets-philosophy novel of ideas (at least as how I see it, maybe not you). The twinned main plots resemble those in AK. But the story may have hints of "Madame Bovary" for obvious reasons. Beyond those two classic comparisons, its epic nature seems to have influenced more what followed it; but it does share that 19c love of a digressive, long plot.

Have you listened to any of David Horovitch’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No, but I will after this. I know he does a lot of Dickens. That too may be enlivened aloud.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Beyond the climactic scenes with one protagonist that are very well known, the death of Nikolai as witnessed by Levin reminds one of "The Death of Ivan Ilych" in its powerful observation, enhanced by Horovitch's shifts in register and timbre. He can evoke a wheeze, a cough, and a mumble very well, but again, you need attention in such scenes to be made.

Any additional comments?

"Reason provides us with a means of escape," to quote Anna more or less, provides a morality tale that intersects (if with attenuated progress, one aspect that may lessen the appeal of this novel for some modern readers less accustomed to Tolstoy's diversions from the main direction) with Levin's attempt to get beyond his intellectual conceptions of life. Vladimir Nabokov sniffed that AK should have had more on Anna's curls on the nape of her neck and less debate by Levin about agricultural reform. Yet a truer look at the whole scene Tolstoy attends to widens from the domestic and the intimate. Although that whole sub-plot sending Anna + Vronsky off to Italy mid-way seems rather beside the point; Tolstoy seems not to have exploited the potential of the setting. For all its depth, this novel does focus nearly entirely on the gentry and nobles, and like Turgenev's "Fathers + Sons" it seems removed from daily toil. But we know Tolstoy would become taken up by such soon after.

The Joke audiobook cover art

It's not funny anymore

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-01-17

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

My mind wandered a lot. I can see why as the Author's Afterword complains the earlier translations (#1-4) edited and streamlined the original. Despite Kundera's protests, it needed revision. It's far too sprawling and disjointed. It turned tedious early on and rarely engaged.

What do you think your next listen will be?

I am taking on a revisit to Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" as a reminder of quality literary fiction.

Did Richmond Hoxie do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

He tried. He has an avuncular style similar to George Guidall. But for the females, he could not modulate his delivery much. For the protagonist, he sounded too boorish and gruff.

Was The Joke worth the listening time?

A toss-up. While it did give you an insight into Moravian folkways and music, it lacked the detailed impact of, say, how working in a mine would feel for one sentenced to a "black insignia" unarmed contingent of politically suspect comrades in early 1960s Czechoslovakia,

Any additional comments?

This confirms my unease with Milan Kundera's work. While "The Joke" by some is considered a debut (1965-7) second only to "Unforgettable Lightness of Being," I am annoyed by his seemingly slapdash manner of plot. Yes, he weighs in with the philosophical musings early in his career, but this novel frankly merited at least some of the excisions he predictably decries. The 7-part structure is promising but the results are verbose and dull.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful