The new audiobook from the acclaimed author of Birds Without Wings and Captain Corelli's Mandolin is a love story at once raw and sweetly funny, wry and heartbreakingly sad.
Chris is bored, lonely, trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage. In his forties, he's a stranger to the 1970s youth culture of London, a stranger to himself on the night he invites a hooker into his car.
Roza is Yugoslavian, recently moved to London, the daughter of one of Tito's partisans. She's in her twenties, but has already lived a life filled with danger, misadventure, romance, and tragedy. And though she's not a hooker, when she's propositioned by Chris, she gets into his car anyway.
Over the next few months Roza tells Chris the stories of her past. She's a fast-talking Scheherazade, saving her own life by telling it to Chris. And he takes in her tales as if they were oxygen in an otherwise airless world. But is Roza telling the truth? Does Chris hear the stories through the filter of his own need? Does it even matter?
The deeply moving story of their unlikely love - narrated in the moment and through recollection, each of their voices deftly realized - is also a brilliantly subtle commentary on storytelling: its seductions and powers, and its ultimately unavoidable dangers.
©2008 Louis de Bernières; (P)2008 Random House Audiobooks
I had heard the interview with the author on the Audible newsletter so knew that this book was quite different in style from Captain Corelli's Mandolin. The use of two different narrators to tell the story of a relationship alternating between the man's and the woman's perspective works well. It's an intriguing tale with twists and turns that reminds one a little of Sherazad in 1001 Nights.
I bought this on the basis of listening to the preview chapter on the Audible podcast. The first chapter is superb and the last is pretty good too. Unfortunately the middle drags a bit and the author uses up all his good jokes and surpises early on. It is very well read though and has a nice gentle pace. It reminded me of Julian Barnes' Metroland, which is not altogether a bad thing. I think the problem with it is that the initial chapter promises one thing and the rest of the book gives something else entirely.
I did enjoy this title, well narrated and it moved along at an enjoyable pace. Also told me new things about the breakup of former Yugoslavia. And it was amusing, with some laugh, and cringe, out loud moments.
But I felt it a little thin in story. Like an essay that poses a lot of questions but doesn't seek to address them. Ultimately, I felt a little let down by the author not addressing whether these stories were true, and what happened to the characters afterwards...and I guess I was not captivated enough by the story to try and work it out or invent it for myself.
But, it was an enjoyable listen and perhaps a more inventive mind could piece together the story better than I did?
I have read all of Louis De Bernieres previous novels, and this book is a bit of a depature for him. Rather than having a cast of colourful characters, as in his earlier novels, there are just two -Chris a rather dull, suburban husband in the seventies and the beautiful Roza who entertains him with the story of her life. Roza is a charming storyteller and throughout the book there are hints that she may not be who she seems. Chris remains cypher throughout and you don't really get any sense of who he is nor of his motivation - other than his erotic obsession with Roza. As a consequence the ending seems a bit rushed and poorly thought out in what it almost 'and then I woke up and it was all a dream' kind of way. Mind you I also hated the end of Captain Corelli! Despite that the writing is excellent and this a superb reading from both of the actors.
Although well read in this audio version, this is overall a disappointing novel. The rich background detail - historical, cultural and biographical - which punctuates de Berniere's earlier works, particularly Corelli's Mandolin and Birds without Wings, is sadly lacking. The narrative is narrowly focussed on an obsession which is too prurient and manipulative to merit any association with love. Roza's biography and its relating become increasingly far-fetched and the denouement, such as it is, is predictable and cliched.
Neither of the main characters engages our sympathy or interest and they both remain superficially drawn. If they are two-dimensional, the other figures, with the exception of Dylan Upstairs, are ghostlike in their portrayal.
Overall a dramatic lapse in form.
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