This is a long, rich complex historical novel and for many people this unabridged audio version will be an excellent way to get to know such a lengthy work. But some caution may be necessary . Simon Slater reads the basic narrative well and gives a gripping portrayal of Thomas Cromwell, the main focus of interest in this account of the reign of Henry VIII to 1535. But although he is clearly aware of the necessity of some differentiation for other important characters, his solutions are not always convincing and fail to do justice to the subtlety and detail of Hilary Mantel's writing :Cardinal Wolsey sounds dimwitted, Thomas More - far from a saintly character in this novel- sounds sly and slimy and the old nobility blustering idiots. In each case there is an element of truth in the portrayal but they come across too often as cardboard cut-outs.
Most readers will also find that they will need to have or to acquire a good knowledge of Early Tudor history to appreciate fully what Hilary Mantel is attempting in this book. There is much fascinating detail and insight to enjoy but in the end I was left feeling the book could profitably have been more tautly focussed and better structured ? it seems to peter out rather than reach a proper closure -is a sequel intended?
Certainly then on the whole a worthwhile audiobook but be prepared for a text that is occasionally self indulgent ? repetitious and over detailed ? and a reading that is enjoyable but unconvincing and inadequate in places.
"West is best"
Barchester Towers is perhaps the most enjoyable novel of an author whom it is almost always a delight to read. Perhaps the novel does not scale the heights and social criticism is mild and muted in comparison with other Victorian novelists.But there are few readers who will not enjoy the portrayal of the Archdeacon, Mrs Proudie ,the egregious Mr Slope and many other characters.
When in addition the novel is superbly read by Timothy West, this becomes an outstanding audio book. He judges the varied tone of the narration to perfection and differentiates and portrays the various characters so well that listening one forgets that there is just one single reader. I'm sure that I will not be alone in finding that listening to these novels read by Timothy West is more rewarding and enjoyable than reading the book for oneself. Strongly recommended as are all of Timothy West's readings of Trollope.
"A subtle portrait"
The subtleties of Henry James's style might not seem designed to be listened to as an audio book. But in fact this reading works excellently since Nadia May always shows insight and understanding of the text, so that the reader's attention is held both during long passages of analysis and reflection and during dialogue, where she distinguishes and projects the various characters most convincingly.James' text does repay slow and careful reading,but for many people this reading may be an excellent way to get into a novel which is demanding but very much worth the effort.
"Not only for the Irish"
For those like me who did not know much about Ireland's history this is a fascinating and revealing account that works well as an audio book.The five minute episodes are skilfully constructed and almost always contain some striking incidents and memorable characters . Occasionally the sound effects, atmospheric music or foreign accents are overdone, but generally each episode is most enjoyable to hear. The grand set pieces receive good treatment -Cromwell in Ireland, the rebellion of 1798, the great famine, Parnell- but there are also fascinating, less familiar topics: a Spaniard's account of Elizabethan Ireland, details of the Irish linen industry, the first performance of Messiah in Dublin,and many others. Sometimes perhaps colourful detail takes the place of sustained historical analysis but I'm sure that listening to these programmes will lead many to read more about what is a striking and turbulent history, and a story of which both English and Irish people should be aware. It is understandable but still disappointing that the history stops at the Second World War and so does not deal with the more recent past.
Paradise lost is a poem that gains greatly by being read aloud. Passages which on the printed page may seem convoluted and obscure can be made clear by a good reader, and Anton Lesser is, as always not merely a good but an outstanding reader. His voice at first may seem slight and lacking resonance but he follows the argument and pace of the narrative with great intelligence and is able to differentiate and characterise convincingly all the different voices that speak in the poem. This skill is essential, since unlike the abridged version published by Naxos some years ago, he is the sole narrator. As such he does a superb job throughout the long and varied length of this poem.
The old Argo recording of substantial portions of the epic still seems to me unmatched -with Tony Church as a superb narrator, Michael Redgrave as a splendidly theatrical Satan, Michael Hordern as a plausible God the father, Prunella scales as a movingly characterised Eve. The use of different voices is undoubtably better and more in keeping with the strong dramatic element in this epic. It is a pity that this and other Argo recordings are no longer available. But Anton Lesser as a single narrator does the job perhaps as well as it can be done (and is certainly preferable to the pedestrian version by Frederic Davidson). If you know Paradise Lost, you will find Anton Lessor's reading always clear and often illuminating.If you are approaching this marvellous poem for the first time, this reading is an ideal way to gain an overview of the whole epic.
"A biography worthy of Churchill"
If anyone is wondering whether it is worthwhile to spend a day and a half of your life listening to this biography, I would answer resoundingly yes. Whatever your own political affiliations, Churchill remains a fascinating character and his biography is inextricably woven in with the history of the last century. Roy Jenkins is an excellent biographer: this is neither hagiography nor hatchet job.The narrative is clear and constantly interesting , the judgements on people and events are shrewd and judicious. In particular, as might be expected Jenkins is a masterly guide to the workings of the British political system. Robert Whitfield's reading is most competent: his Churchill imitation is only passable, but proves to be valuable as not the least pleasure of the book is the generous quotation of Churchill's own words from letters and speeches. No contemporary politician comes anywhere near his mastery of English. A measure of this biography's success is that it does not seem long or overdetailed despite its length. There are many biographies of Churchill -some even longer, others more concise -but this account of Jenkins impresses me as a fair-minded guide and a work worthy of its subject.
"A History of Modern British Politicians..."
I did not see and therefore cannot judge the television series, but this audiobook is most enjoyable and informative. Too often professional actors do not seem to follow or to care much about what they are reading, but Andrew Marr delivers his own text with verve and enthusiasm .He has decided views on many of his topics and characters and conveys his interest to the listener. He should not give up his career in journalism to become a mimic but his imitation of their speech adds to the vividness of his portrayal of some politicians As a work of history this is very much a political rather than social history - he is clearly fascinated by politicians and is not greatly concerned with everyday lives -and many aspects of modern Britain receive scant notice, but Marr has a shrewd view of politicans and an eye for fascinating detail and telling anecdotes. The text is clearly abridged (this should be made clearer ) and possibly the audiobook exaggerates the concentration on politicians. One measure of the success of this audiobook is that it makes me and I'm sure many others keen to read the full text of the printed book .
"Early Eliot worth investigating."
It would be a pity if anyone was put off this book by the unpromising tile. It was the first imaginative fiction published by George Eliot . Though it is possible to find fault with some of the plotting and characterisation,it is by no means mere apprentice work.There is the same sane, compassionate but sharp view of human nature eloquently expressed that is to be found in the later more expansive novels. If you have enjoyed Middlemarch or The Mill on the Floss you will find much to give delight in these three stories.
Nadia May is, as always, an intelligent and entertaining reader.She excels both in conveying clearly the argument of reflective passages of analysis and reflection and in doing full justice to George Eliot's ear for a wide range of speech. It is an accomplished reading that illuminates the text.
"An epic reading"
This is a superb reading. All too often with very long works read as audiobooks the monotonous, mechanical tone of the reader gives the impression that the words come out of the mouth without ever going anywhere near the mind. But Neville Jason proves to be an ideal reader for such a vast and varied novel. The narration is constantly sensitive to the tone and pace of Tolstoy's writing and he has an impressive skill in differentiating and giving a plausible voice to each of the many characters. Even readers who are very familiar with the text will find this reading illuminates scene after scene.
As for the novel itself recommendation is superfluous for anyone who has once read this marvellous book. I can think of very few other novels that leave the reader with so vivid a sense of lived experience and once read forever haunt the imagination. But if anyone has been deterred from undertaking such a lengthy work this excellent audiobook may well prove the ideal way to get to know one of the supreme(and most enjoyable) masterpieces of world literature.
"All the voices"
This is not perhaps the most obvious choice for an audio book but it proves in fact to be an excellent work to listen to.Melvyn Bragg writes in a way that is a model of intelligent popularisation : without ever being either too technical or patronisingly simple he conveys much information about the history of the English language in a way that will entertain and instruct anyone with any degree of interest in the subject.Robert Powell -always a most competent and intelligent reader-copes superbly with what is often a difficult text.He manfully does his best to impart interest even to the long lists of words that occur in some chapters, but where he excels particularly is in the plausible rendition that he gives of the various dialects and languages related to English - his Frisian and Anglo-Saxon may or may not satisfy experts but they sound most convincing.He clearly enjoyed the challenge of conveying how differently English did and does sound. With such expert reading this is one of the occasions when an audio book has a distinct advantage over the silent printed text.If you have any interest in our language, you will enjoy this work and this reading.
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