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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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  • MLH
  • Illinois
  • 03-04-16

Something Wicked Good

Intriguing , imaginative and well-crafted.
And the narrator, Alan Cumming, brings it to life. Like Shakespeare? You'll love this. Don't like Shakespeare? You'll love this.

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Grim to boredom

To its credit, I must say it is interesting in what it adds to the play, but it is written with such a heavy hand as to become tedious. The author is monotonous in his portrayal of grim events—there is nothing else in the story and soon all grinlmness becomes tedious and insignificant (there is a reason why the play is short and the authors didn't catch it.) It doesn't have the glaring logical/plot holes of their adaptation of Hamlet, but fails in the most important and most interesting task it set out to accomplish: the portrayal of a good man turning into an evil monster. The authors gave it too much for granted and, after building Macbeth into a good and honest men, just make him slip with a couple of strokes into bad, not making much sense along the way. That part should have been the most important and most interesting of the story, but instead is given mostly for granted and not given the development it needed.
Alan Cumming was excellent in his reading.

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An interesting version with a great narrator

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

The other novel by Hartley and Hewson, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. I actually liked Hamlet better because I felt the authors had a more unique approach to that story.

Any additional comments?

It is a very interesting version of a familiar story. The authors develop the plot lines and characters in order to better understand the characters and their actions. Some interesting minor characters are brought to the forefront of the story as well.

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Great retelling, but the real star was the narrator

Macbeth was always one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and I am a huge fan of Alan Cumming. The combination was irresistible. I loved being able to get into the characters' heads the way only a novel allows, and the combination of real history of the infamous play, as well as a few original details, was simply delightful. That being said, the best part of the whole experience was Alan's narration. From the first line to the last, Alan delivered a performance that at once was engaging and innovative, easily separating each character into a unique entity, and his natural Scottish brogue only served to further the feeling of being there as it happened.

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  • Rachel
  • Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
  • 11-09-15

We know more about lady Macbeth

What did you love best about Macbeth: A Novel?

The back story given to a lot of the side characters, especiall Macbeth and the witches!

What did you like best about this story?

There are multiple points of view

Which scene was your favorite?

The realisation that the youngest witch may be the most powerful and strange one.

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

Lady Macbeth, she needs a sympathetic ear and sensible advice most of all.

Any additional comments?

For those who love Shakespeare's work, especially Macbeth, this is a great addition!

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  • Peter
  • Middleton, WI, United States
  • 10-21-15

Medieval thriller

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

Yes. It's a fun, fast paced thriller.

Would you be willing to try another book from A. J. Hartley and David Hewson ? Why or why not?

I have. I listened to Hamlet which I liked a lot.

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

No

Any additional comments?

This is a fast paced but gory thriller about curmudgeonly people killing other curmudgeons in early Scotland. The witches are fun. The story is straightforward and easy to follow but just a wee bit formulaic. Overall a good listen but not Dostoevsky.

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Good, but short.

I enjoyed this retelling of Macbeth. I like the angle that the authors put on the story and point out that every wo/man has their own ambitions and that murder isn't the purpose, it's the steps that lead to the goal that originally started out being a righteous one. Not often is it that a person is just terrible... and this re-telling points out that Macbeth and his wife were not just cruel schemers... they were people who thought they could do something good for others but made the wrong first step, which became a catalyst toward murder and never ending guilt and suffering.

Alan Cumming did a great job narrating this book. I read his autobiography, Not My Father's Son, so I already had a bit of a connection to him as a narrator which made his reading of Macbeth even more meaningful.

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as compared to hamlet by the same authors

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

not my favorite but very good

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

hamlet. the story I dont think is as good as hamlet but the narration is better in macbeth. the depiction of the characters is the most obvious difference. part of this is the writing but more in the characterization from the narrator

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

not sure that I have

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

none. It was not easy to like any one character over another. even the villains

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Fills in the blanks

Would you try another book from A. J. Hartley and David Hewson and/or Alan Cumming?

If I had to study Macbeth at school, I can't think of a better way then to read this book. I Wikipediaed Macbeth the person after reading. This this a fictionalization based on the play, very loosely based on the person Macbeth. Lots of detail on what life was like 1000 years ago. On the downside, book wasn't as engaging as I would have liked. Ok but just ok. I might read Hamalet.

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Pretty poor rewrite of the plot

I had high hopes for this book, but instead found that it was half terribly written fantasy and half original play rewritten with mostly modern English. The characters are all even more 2 dimensional than the original play.