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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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  • Overall

I get it now!

Over the years I've tried several times to get into Shakespeare's version of this most interesting tale. I just couldn't do it. (Sorry Professor Hartley, I was an economics major.) This book is well written and superbly narrated. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

24 of 29 people found this review helpful

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  • Erik
  • Sooke, British Columbia, Canada
  • 10-28-14

Makes Macbeth accessible to everyone

This was surprisingly good. Given the expert execution of the story by Shakespeare in his play, I was betting that the novelized version wouldn't be able to do as well. I was wrong.

In the preamble the authors explain their reasons for expanding the story into a novel. In this, they do very well and round out the characters and back stories even more. I think the characters to most benefit the story are the 3 hags, as they are really brought to life in this book.

The other benefit of this version of Macbeth is the ease of reading/listening. If Shakespearean prose has kept you away from these works before, have no fear here and experience why this story has such power even after all this time.

The narrator was ideally suited to this book. His accent, inflection, and cadence made the experience very pleasurable. All this make this book highly recommended!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Amazing Narration!

Would you listen to Macbeth: A Novel again? Why?

I doubt it. The only audio book I have ever listened to more than once was Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Macbeth: A Novel?

When the childlike witch raped Macbeth

Which scene was your favorite?

All of the scenes with the three witches.

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

I thought the scene in which Banquo dies was really pretty good.

Any additional comments?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book the narration was simply Brilliant and worth the listen just to hear it. If you liked Macbeth the play you will love the novel. It was very entertaining.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Wow - What a Performance!

I had been listening to audiobooks about England before and after the Norman Conquest and decided to include Macbeth since the timeframe overlaps. This is not just another rendition of a Shakespearean classic. It stays true to the Great Bard's version but humanizes the character in a way the reader does not expect and holds your interests until the final seconds of the book. Alan Cumming's narration is flawless. A definite must for fans of Shakespeare and historical novels.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Give it a few minutes...

The narrator of this book has an actual Scottish accent. It's not really that strong, all things considered, but for my American ears, it took a good 15 minutes before I was able to really understand what was going on, and probably an hour before I was completely accustomed to the accent. Once I adapted, though, the narration added so much value to my experience of the book.

I love Shakespeare, but I am by no means a purist. I love adaptations that move the plays into new times and places, and I adored 10 Things I Hate About You when it came out. (I still like it, though it's not quite the masterwork I thought at 18.) This is one of the more fascinating adaptations I've experienced, and Macbeth is really ripe for this kind of interpretation. As the writers point out in the preliminaries, the motivations of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the play are difficult to pin down. This book tries to imagine what could have caused their actions.

Some readers may find the depiction of the Weird Sisters a bit much. I did, to some extent, but I also enjoyed that they were given a prominent, distinctly female role that left me unable to pin down how I felt about them, their actions, or their real part in the tragedy.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • William
  • Winston Salem, NC, United States
  • 05-31-12

Some things never change

Wow! I listened to this book right after Andrew Young's book about John Edwards. (The jury is still deliberating as I write this.) Some things never change. Great reading from Alan Cumming. I will listen to this book again.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • KP
  • Oakland, CA
  • 05-09-12

Great Way to Experience Macbeth

I enjoyed this quite a bit! I was fascinated to see how these two authors would re-interpret Shakespeare???s famous play as a full-length novel. It was really engrossing! At first I felt like I only found it engrossing because, well, because of Shakespeare. However, by the end, I felt like the book stood on its own as a tale of greed and desire and their toll on the human spirit when left unchecked.

I really like the way Macbeth and his wife were fleshed out and humanized so that the reader really can imagine why they turned out like they did. The historical period was presented in a way that supported and illuminated the treachery presented in the story. Also, those witches were fascinating, really! The Scottish accent of the narrator was really great and lent authenticity to the story as well.

I know this came out as an audiobook only and will not be in print until May, 2012. I???m wondering if this novelized version will eventually become a movie. I could really visualize that! Maybe Rooney Mara (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) could be the young witch!

The only things that didn???t appeal to me were all the battle scenes and strategies. I don???t like war stories very much, but this book rose above that because of the psychological insight into the main characters.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A superb novelization!

Macbeth has always been my favorite Shakespeare work, except perhaps Henry V. The fact that Star Trek spoofed Halloween in their only "holiday episode" doesn't hurt. I felt transported back to those troubled times in Scotland. The weird sisters were spooky, Macbeth a dedicated patriot who went too far. Lady Macbeth, who had personal demons that ripped a hole in her soul that couldn't be mended. The sights, sounds, smells - everything from that time and place are here. The descriptions of the land, the sea, the plant life - outstanding. I do understand those who complained about the length of the novel versus the play. I think some of the aftermath of Duncan's death could have been trimmed, but not a lot. To use the movie rating scale, in case you're not familiar with the story, it is a "hard" R - lots of explicit violence, explicit or implied sex, adult themes such as power and how to hold it. Last but certainly not least, Mr. Cumming's performance was impeccable. Despite its mature nature, I heartily recommend it.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Darrell
  • OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, United States
  • 02-20-12

A New Classic

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

The richness of the English language is amply evident in this wonderful retelling of Shakespeare's tale. The authors add flesh and historical context to the charactors of this sparce charactor study set in the wild highlands of Scotland, bringing a new vitality to

What did you like best about this story?

I especially enjoyed the depiction of the 3 weird sisters. They were brought to life with such vivid imagery, that I will not soon forget them; or their vile splendor.

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

The narration is the best that I have heard and only adds to the earthy richness of the book. The scottish burr in the narrator's voice brings a delightful resonance to the prose being read.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Macbeth in the flesh. Peter Jackson directs.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Very good

A great novel of the Macbeth story that stays in line with Shakespeare's play. Writing is excellent. I had to stop though because it was so depressing. I guess that means the writer did a good job.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Victoria Simpson
  • 03-25-16

Fantastic !!!

A brilliant adaptation of Macbeth, made accessible to everyone " no olde worlde" speak. A superb captivating story very well read by Alan cumming and is highly recommended. Hugely enjoyable !!

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  • Mr GA
  • 03-24-16

Interesting

An interesting interpretation well worth a listen.

I doubt many Shakespeare purists will be too offended by the changes to the story and the change in emphasis made by the authors.

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  • Jane-Marie
  • 03-18-16

Brilliant

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

just brilliant

What did you like best about this story?

That it is in modern English

Which scene did you most enjoy?

The witches

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

No

Any additional comments?

if you have not taken to Shakespeare then this will convert you. A brilliant book I gave it five stars as it is written so well. The narration is brilliant. It takes you there.

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  • The Wolf
  • 03-12-16

Good

Narration was good and overall I enjoyed this audiobook. A bit light though, it seemed to flick between scenes without much character development. I've never seen the play so thought this would be a good introduction but now I'm not fussed about ever seeing it.
Feels a bit like a wasted opportunity, I think the bones of the story could have been turned into a better modern novel.

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  • graham harley
  • 03-03-16

brilliant finished in 2 days

really glad it bought this even though it's not normally the sort of thing I would go for, so glad I did I really enjoyed it, well read and written 5star

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  • ian mccormick
  • 04-15-15

good job !

enjoyed it from start to finish would recommend it, a quality production and good value.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • B
  • 04-17-13

Brilliant

A very original,enthralling slant on the old story.Beautifully narrated in Scottish accents which makes it feel so authentic

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  • Angus
  • 04-13-13

Very Good

It's impossible to review this book without referring to Shakespeare, but to make a straight comparison doesn't really do it justice. The book stands on it's own right and is quite gripping. The description of the time and location really brings the world to life and the characters feel quite real. Alan Cumming is an excellent reader and he uses a voice that feels as if its from the period itself.

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  • Sylvia
  • 04-12-13

Wonderful audiobook

This novel was fantastic. As someone who has always loved MacBeth, but found the play hard to follow, this really brought the whole story to life and I understood many parts that I had missed before. I was worried that it might be oversimplified,like a school revision guide, but it wasn't at all. It was a gripping, engaging version of Macbeth. I'd love to see more novels based on Shakespeare's plays like this one.

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  • David
  • 02-21-13

Macbeth a Novel

An expertly crafted adaptation of the play which moves easily along while sustaining a dramatic darkness.Only downside for me was the whining Kelvinside accent of the narrator!