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Editorial Reviews

As British best-selling crime author David Hewson reflects in his introduction to this innovative project, "the Scottish play" is shrouded in mysteries that are not to be taken lightly. Shakespeare condensed and confused 17 years in the history of a beloved king into a play covering a few days rife with political intrigue and shadowy motivations. In The Bard's tragic canon, Macbeth stands as an anomaly for many reasons, including how short it is and how flat all the characters are besides Macbeth himself. With the help of A.J. Hartley, distinguished professor of Shakespeare at UNC-Charlotte and thriller novelist, Macbeth: A Novel is poised to provide a more complete and fleshy picture of this odd little play.

Going where many other actors would fear to tread is, of course, Alan Cumming. Cumming has a long history with daring characters on stage and on the big screen, as well as his fair share of Shakespeare with a previous turn as Hamlet. With an Audie Award already under his belt, he has the chops necessary to imagine and give voice to paranoid kings and conniving witches, but perhaps one of the greatest joys of his work on Macbeth: A Novel is just the fact of his naturally beautiful Scottish accent left unfettered. Nothing sets the landscape so clearly as listening to those long, rolling vowels come up from a part of the belly that only a Scot must have.

Cumming does not shy away from the devious depths of feeling that Hartley and Hewson have so carefully layered onto the play. No more off-stage murder, no more simply scary witches chanting, and quite a bit more sympathy for this story's many devils. Every poisonous cup and every stab wound are rendered in living battle colors. The three witches are not just weird, but positively demonic, each with their own dynamic contribution to the making of a king. Lady Macbeth and Banquo in particular have personalities that loom as large as Macbeth's familiar form.

A strikingly modern interpretation that nevertheless faithfully adapts Shakespeare's original, this audiobook will surely please a wide variety of listeners. Lovers of mysteries or political thrillers, teachers struggling to blow the dust off a classic for their students, and fans of Shakespeare will all find many reasons to enjoy Hartley and Hewson's fresh presentation. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

Macbeth: A Novel brings the intricacy and grit of the historical thriller to Shakespeare’s tale of political intrigue, treachery, and murder. In this full-length novel written exclusively for audio, authors A. J. Hartley and David Hewson rethink literature’s most infamous married couple, grounding them in a medieval Scotland whose military and political upheavals are as stark and dramatic as the landscape on which they are played.

Macbeth is a war hero and a patriot, doing everything in his power to hold together Duncan’s crumbling kingdom, which is beset by sedition from within and with threats from overseas. But when Duncan, contrary to ancient Scottish tradition, turns to building a family dynasty instead of rewarding those who have borne the brunt of the fighting, Macbeth and his powerful wife, Skena, make plans of their own, plans designed to hold both the nation and their strained relationship together. Sinister figures who claim supernatural knowledge spur them on, but the terrible outcome is as much about accident and failure as it is malevolence. Soon Macbeth and his wife find themselves preeminent in all the land, but struggling to hold themselves and their country together as former friends turn into bitter and deadly enemies.

This is Macbeth as you have not heard it before: fresh, edgy, and vital. It is a story of valor in battle, whispering in shadows, witchcraft in the hollows of an ancient landscape, and the desperate struggle of flawed people to do what they think is right.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

A. J. Hartley, a professor of Shakespeare at the Univ. of North Carolina-Charlotte, is the author of the “Will Hawthorne” fantasy series as well as several thrillers.
David Hewson is the best-selling author of 16 novels, including the Rome-based “Nic Costa” crime series.

ABOUT THE NARRATOR

Alan Cumming stars in CBS's The Good Wife, for which he received an Emmy nomination, and is the host of PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery. He was honored with the 2011 Audie Award for Best Male Narrator.

The Irish folk song “She Moved Through the Fair” is performed by Heather O'Neil of the Irish Repertory Theater.

Check out behind-the-scenes videos of the "making of", plus co-author David Hewson's research photos, taken on-location in Scotland, here.
Listen to more titles from A. J. Hartley and David Hewson.
©2011 A.J. Hartley, David Hewson (P)2011 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“Not only is the novel an amplification of Shakespeare's famous tragedy, but it also fills in many of the gaps and gives a new perspective on Macbeth….Alan Cumming reads in a luscious Scottish brogue, which adds authenticity to the narration. His subtle changes of voice for different characters provide a full cast for this story of ambition and hubris. This is a wonderful novel of the human condition, read with ardor and enthusiasm.” (AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Sarah
  • West Lebanon, NH, United States
  • 07-17-12

absolutely excellent

I've read the Shakespeare original (and liked it), but this version breathes a whole new life into the characters. Everyone has a history and secret desires and fears, so their tragedies become much more poignant. lady macbeth was particularly transformed in my mind, and the weird sisters were much more sinister. the narration was fantastic, and exactly right for the task.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Chilling work

Any additional comments?

I had a visceral reaction to this work. Alan Cummings brings the listener into the action. And that action is horrible and human and sad. The dismay of Lady Macbeth at the consequences of her actions and the evilness of Fergus stood out to me. Highly recommended.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Fantastic all around - The BEST

This is without a doubt the best way to introduce Shakesper - I've read seen just about every interpretation of Macbetha dn this is by far the best. Makes it come alive, somehow even makes it relevant to today.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Outstanding !

One of the better audible recordings available. Great story, subtly modernized but retains the character of Shakespeare. Huge thumbs up !
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13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Robert
  • Yamhill, OR, United States
  • 11-15-11

Incredible

As intimidating as he can be, I love Shakespeare and have since I first read Romeo and Juliet. While I have felt I never really understood all of his writing, his words and use of the English language were worth reading or listening to just for their own sake. For this reason, I had my doubts about reading/listening to this book. I mean how can you improve on Shakespeare for god's sake. Well I was not disappointed. This is one incredible book and made even better in audio-form by Audible.

This psychological drama was first made clearer to me when I first listened to another Audible selection, SmartPass Plus Audio Education Study Guide to Macbeth. This is one in a series of selections by Smartpass where a number of classics are read or really dramatized by actors and commented upon along the way. The second half of the audiobook is read without interruption. If you want to better understand the classics I cannot recommend these audiobooks more highly. They're terrific.

With regard to this new treatment, this novel, I have to say the same. It is riveting. This is one of those books where you sit in your driveway way too long after arriving home just to keep listening. The narration does justice to the work itself. Not only will you love the words, you will love how they are spoken. For me, this was one of the best books of the year and more.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Well, that was terrific!

Thoroughly engaging, beautifully narrated, fresh take on the Macbeths. I recommend it highly! Now I'm going to listen to the play . . .

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • A
  • 12-29-11

An interesting experiment

You always remember your first--and way back in 5th grade, Macbeth was my first venture into Shakespeare. Miss Weil loved Shakespeare and she introduced her class to the magic. Macbeth--in iambic pentameter-- was our 5th grade play. It is still my favorite Shakespeare. That said, I was just not sure how I would react to a novelization of the story.

Surprisingly, I stuck it out to the end-- and surprisingly, I didn't hate it. I didn't love it entirely either but that was because there were places where I just didn't agree with Hartley and Hewson's interpretation of events and motivations. However, I learned a lot about the historical background of the play and perhaps got a better idea of what life was like in those times. In short, it gave me a better understanding of the play.

Nonetheless, the novel stands on its own; its a good read. You don't need to know Shakespeare's play to get through the story. You don't have to be a Lit. major to enjoy it. In fact, you might even be better off not arriving with so much baggage.

Finally, kudos to the narrator Alan Cummings--and to the person who chose him. The book may have been written in prose but it read like poetry. Not since I heard Lisette Lescat read the 'No.1 Ladies' Detective' series have I heard such a perfect pairing of material and reader.


11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • BK
  • 08-28-11

Wonderful

A great novelized version of Macbeth. As the author notes in the afterward, this version is just that -- a novelized version. Well worth listening to, the reader's voices and cadence are right on.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Judith
  • RIVERSIDE, CA, United States
  • 11-20-11

Wow! Buy this, you'll want to listen to it again!

This is great! The narrator has a beautiful accent that perfectly fits the characters yet is easily understandable. It's Macbeth in modern English so there's not all that Elizabethan English to plod through that normally detracts from being able to understand the plot. Not historically accurate, one must remember that Shakespeare was writing to please Queen Elizabeth I so his plays were designed to degrade Elizabeth's enemies which would include the Plantagenets and the Scots. With this in mind, this is a beautiful listen. The lilting prose practically becoming poetry in the process.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Macbeth is alive.

Great concept delivered by Hartley and Hewson. And it really works so well. Macbeth simply comes alive. The reading is just perfect. The land, the personalities, the ' history' unfolding are all full of life, that it is almost like a hologram where the whole story is being enacted in my living room.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • anne hunt
  • 03-20-17

Another triumph for Hartley and Hewson

This is the third of the stories derived from Shakespeare's plays that I have listened to although I think it was the first produced by the collaboration between Mr, Hartley and Mr, Hewson or Mr. Hewson alone.I love their style of writing, rich with description and characterisation . I particularly like the way they have developed the three sisters ( witches ) in their version, very clever and most entertaining.
The more I discover about the history of mankind and of kings in particular the more I am convinced that evolution may have taken a wrong turn but no doubt in the long run it will make a correction which may or may not include humanity depending on whether we can mend our ways!
I did find the narration slightly one dimensional on this occasion and consequently lost the plot once or twice, but it is a story that I will no doubt listen to more than once if only to enjoy the writing.

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  • HM
  • 01-28-17

An enjoyable take of a classic Shakespeare play

I like the concept of a Shakespeare play bending written as a fiction novel. Well written but it take a while to become accustomed to the thick Scottish acents used in the narration

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  • faizel kimera
  • 12-31-16

so good!

brilliant. stands alongside the play as it's equal. do all the plays please please. highly recommended to everyone, especially you actor types

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  • Anne
  • 11-09-16

Stick to the original

struggled to finish it a poor attempt of retelling the story .only a long drive and nothing else to listen to made me complete it

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  • Alison
  • 06-16-16

I didn't like this book at all. I found I couldn't continue to listen to it and deleted it after the murder of Banquo.I

Just found the book too hysterical and dramatic. There never seemed to be any period of normality. Felt it relied too much on a play with little attempt to move beyond the play. Might work with Shakespeare didn't here. I have never deleted a book before finishing it before !

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  • Dwyllie
  • 06-16-16

Macbeth

Loved this - Alan Cumming a oratory master and great choice to read this- great entertainment

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  • Janec
  • 06-09-16

Another Macbeth worth listening to

Really enjoyable reworking of Macbeth. Alan Cummings various Scots characterisations are a joy. Highly recommend

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  • Sandy
  • 05-25-16

Brilliant!

If you could sum up Macbeth: A Novel in three words, what would they be?

Enthralling, vivid, grim.

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

Seeing as this is a reworking of the Shakespeare, I guess Macbeth the play would be the most obvious. Unfortunately I'm ashamed to admit I've only read excerpts. However, other than that I don't know what I'd liken it to, because I've never read anything like it. The power of the Shakespearean story is evident, but there is enough in this adaptation to draw on the Shakespeare and transform it into a workable, indeed a remarkable and unusual (for our culture) tragedy.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

I loved the witches. They were extraordinary!

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

I was both drawn in and moved by the good-gone-bad Macbeth. It was possible to feel repulsed by his actions, yet drawn in to the hellish (without being overly graphic or violent) downward spiral of the tragedy.

Any additional comments?

We don't really do tragedy in our culture any more. The only thing this reminded me of was the equally brilliant Chinese film Curse of the Golden Flower. It's a shame, in some ways, that we don't do tragedy because it's a good way of exploring the excesses of the human condition at arm's length, so to speak, and enjoying, in the Shakespearean tradition, a stonking good story. Also, it must be said, Alan Cumming is one of the best narrators I have ever heard. I was there on the hillside with the witches, I was in the castle when Macbeth and his wife cooked up their evil plan and I was there, at the end, when the inevitable happened, all because of Alan Cummings' excellent narration. I do hope he does more audiobooks.

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  • Charmaine van der Merwe
  • 04-13-16

I loved it!

Very well told. A fresh perspective on an old story. I enjoyed the whole book

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  • Jan Gilbert
  • 04-01-16

Now I know why Shakespeare is so revered!

I'd never managed to read Shakespeare or even follow a Shakespeare play or film because of the language... I literally lost the plot. So this was a venture into the unknown - and what a delight! It's not a strict version of the original but a very readable and enjoyable version, made all the better by Alan Cummings' narration. Thoroughly recommend if you're not too sure about Shakespeare.