"Hours of delighted listening"
To say that an extra dimension is given by Stephen Fry's voice would be an understatement. He confides, entertains, shocks, confesses, delights, enlightens - rather than merely narrates. It makes the price of this book seem far too low.
In the course of telling the part of his story that stretches from Cambridge to the fame and fortune of his later twenties, he shares with us some of the thoughts and inner fears that he says still haunt him. None of this is solemn or toe-curling though. He always brings himself (and us) back from the brink with a throw-away line of such ludicrous self-mockery that, if most react as I did, the loudness of your own laughter comes as quite a shock.
It's also an insider's look at the way comedy changed and grew in the eighties. Nearly all the radio and television heroes of that era are there. You can hear their voices and each is treated with affectionate glee.
It's rare to find a book where every sentence is satisfying, funny or moving. In an audio book this is a special delight.
He says that it cannot be wondered at that his own rather shy hero, Alan Bennett, is so greatly loved. The self-deprecation that emerges in this book reveals the astonishing fact that Stephen Fry too lacks inner self-assurance - in spite of his cultured, funny, 'Renaissance Man' persona. It's as if he can't quite believe the enormous affection with which the nation regards him but it seems likely that this book will increase that affectionate admiration even more.
"Always so much more than fantasy"
"I can't be doing with fantasy," said my dear 70 year old neighbour, shuddering with well-bred distaste at my suggestion that he'd enjoy Pratchett. But once I had nailed his ear to the MP3 he was soon as full of praise and awe as I am. And saw what is there under the delightful and funny surface.
WHy oh why are Pratchett's novels called "fantasy"? They are far more about our own down-to-earth Earth than most books that purport to hold a mirror up to nature. Of course this story is about football and is very funny indeed - but it is also about... friendship, racism, the nature of love, bullying, courage,the best kind of politics, the desperate need to find self-worth, pies...
Terry Pratchett just gets better and better. This novel is on a par with Night Watch and Going Postal. I can't praise them enough for their un-po-faced sharing of wisdom and optimism.
"I was astonished by this novel"
Like most people who marched in London on February 15th 2003, I hated that UK foreign policy seemed merely to be hanging onto the coat tails of terrifying American imperialism. The lordly refusal of those causing such hurt ever to engage with the reality of the horror was nauseating.
Expecting an expose of the later Blair years I was not disappointed. But this novel is not about hatred or even retribution.
Having read in the 2007 Guardian review that "the novel owes its existence, its composition...to Harris's anger at Blair and his administration" I had been expecting a hatchet job that would satisfy my frustrated contempt for such world leaders. I expected to be invited to detest the thinly veiled characters of Adam Lang and his entourage.
And yet, to my astonishment, Harris caused me to feel a sort of grudging sympathy for almost every character in the book. Which is not to say that any one of them is sympathetic. They are an evident mixture of the real and imagined but they ring true as people, motivated by various shades of black, white and grey. Even the ghost writer himself is drawn into behaviour that he knows is as morally blurred as that of the charming, dangerous fake into whose life story he must try to inject some measure of heart and humanity.
Following the ghost writer's dawning fascination with his predecessor's grisly fate and his deepening suspicion of uncomfortable mysteries beginning to crowd in on him too, one is carried along very fast into this world. Yet it's a world where the tense boredom of lost power, replacing the exciting narcotic of present power, has its own danger.
And if your response is like mine, you will find your heart racing at many points in the beautifully written and brilliantly read narrative. The ending is extraordinary. I was left with a feeling - not of hatred for the the idiocies of politicians - but with a feeling of sadness for the frailties we all share.
"forget the film"
I never realised what a splendid fellow Fhileas Fogg was! This wonderful reading consoled me through a day and a half of flu, away from all the coughing and hot misery of aches into a marvellous world of quiet, unflappable English heroism. And yet at times one laughs aloud.
I remember Corbet Woodall from the black and white newsreels of my childhood. That lovely English gentleman's voice. But he was an actor too and he makes all the characters believable.
I cannot imagine how this extraordinary, exciting, funny and at times moving story has evaded me all these years. I can't recommend this version too highly.
This is the second of the Matthew Shardlake stories and, if possible, even more fascinating and exciting than the first. The world of everyday London at the time of the rivalry between Thomas Cromwell and the Earl of Norfolk - its sensations and its intrigues - I found utterly convincing. The characters of the lawyer and his assistant have human flaws as well as courage and integrity and one cares about them - in fact, all the people in the story are three dimensional. It is an irresistible mixture of flavours - complex plot, touching characters and incredible pace. Lots of blood and gore - but the horrors fulfill an important function in the overall effect of the novel. There is much in this world that echoes our own.
Anton Lessor's splendid reading is remarkable for its range and its underlying humanity. I can't think of many better ways to spend 7 hours than entering this world created by C J Sansom.
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