"A worthy challenge."
I wasn’t finding this a particularly easy book to read (or at least to listen to) until I was about halfway through. Then something clicked, and I realised what it was about the writing that felt strange: there’s no plot - or should I say that the plot is so old and well known that the author doesn’t bother with it. The characters are real people from our past and their life stories are history: set in stone, in a thousand textbooks, their fates are already decided, even if it's only us - the readers - that know it. And Hilary Mantel presumes we do, and so, freed from twisting and shaping a plot, she concentrates on their language: their thoughts and inner voices; the words they might have spoken; even their body language is used to take us deep into their lives and motivations, and Hilary Mantel certainly can write. Whether it’s Thomas More intellectualising his inhumanity or a coarse fisherman going on about some prostitutes her writing is fluid and believable.
Thomas Cromwell was unknown to me before I started Wolf Hall but now I’ve got the feeling that he’s going to stay with me as one of the great (non?) fictional historical characters. (I don’t know, or really care, if this is a true portrait of Thomas Cromwell, but the author made a great decision by putting him at the heart of this pivotal moment in history.)
He’s a wonderfully complex man: his fidelity to his friends, family, masters and ideals contrasts with the ruthlessness of his politics; his drive to free England of the shackles of Rome is bizarrely made possible by the whims of his King, and he accepts this and uses it; and most of all, his comfortableness with the commoners combines beautifully with his ability to motivate and manipulate his betters.
The narrator - Simon Slater - gives every character their own distinctive voice and he adds depth, menace or lightness as needed. So, overall, not an easy read but a beautiful and worthy challenge.
I've been consistently impressed with the narrators I've heard on Audible, but David Horovitch's performance in Anna Karenina is a masterclass. His pacing and voicing is perfect, and each character is brought wonderfully to life. The novel itself is without doubt brilliant, and undoubtably a classic, but I've always found it quite intimidating to take on but I would thoroughly recommend this production of it.
"Enjoyable, but light."
I've enjoyed this trilogy - a great epic space opera with loads of alien tech, action and well written characters - but, unfortunately, this final part lost some pace and depth for me. All the colourful villains, ships and political intrigues got left behind (literally) as the core characters went off in search of the Big Weapon; and the journey just lasted way too long I'm afraid. I'd still recommend the series - it's brilliantly narrated - but only as a fun slice of scifi escapism.
"Life, the Universe and Free Will"
I think science is generally thought of as a big book of facts filled with equations, graphs and hypothesis’ that only scientists can understand; and as time goes on this book is getting bigger and, inevitably, more impenetrable to the uninitiated. In 13 Things ..., however, Michael Brooks reminds us that science is actually a big book of questions and - more often than not - arguments. He takes us through the big holes that science has barely begun to look into: from the dark physics of dark matter and energy, to the search for extraterrestrial life or intelligence, he quickly moves down to the human scale, working his way through life, death and sex and then onto the almost philosophical matter of free will. It’s a very interesting and enjoyable journey filled with the scientists who dare to take on the establishment and are willing to think the unthinkable - and pay the price when they are wrong too. So, thoroughly recommended to pop-science enthusiasts and anyone who fancies a glimpse into the unknown, and possibly even unknowable ...
Utterly wonderful. A paranoid meta-metaphor with a dark heart but redemption at the end (for the family, at least ...)
"Waiting for God ..."
As a well-off white fella in a well-developed Western country, with a successful career that involves no heavy-lifting or monotonous repetition, and family and friends who love and support him as he reads the dailies while thinking and writing things down, Marcus Brigstocke is a prime example of that lucky class of people (to which I also belong) that have been blessed by the gods to not need them. In this eloquent, sincere and very funny book, Marcus goes searching for them anyway: he might not need them, but he wants them.
Though I enjoyed this book, I think I was hoping for something a bit more substantial from Marcus. The main problem - for me, anyway - is that he doesn’t actually do anything. Nevermind going to live with lepers, or holding the hands of the dying, or facing some personal privations, he doesn’t even leave his study: the exercise is mostly intellectual (aside from when he discusses his best friend and his children). A lot of reading went into the writing of this book, and like the wizard said: reading is a great way to avoid actually living. The book could have done with more soul-searching and less ranting, a few less conversations and a lot more actions. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the audiobook - his narration is spot on - and would recommend if you fancy an argument about religion but don’t have any drunken mates handy.
"Not for the lonely ..."
Alain de Botton meticulously dissects that bizarre and complex creature: the Love Affair. He takes every emotion felt, and every action taken, and - through the magnifying glass of philosophy - analyses the whole process of falling in love. From the moment of the lovers’ first contact, through the heat of their passion, the rage of their arguments and the ridiculousness of their sulks, we hear what the philosophers - ancient and modern - have made of love.
As with everything of Alain de Botton’s that I’ve read, 'Essays in Love' is rich with ideas and beautifully written: he manages to put heart into what could otherwise be rather abstract intellectual concepts. The narrator is somewhat neurotic but in a necessary and likeable way, and I was with him through all of his trials. A wonderful book - brilliantly narrated, too - that is going to stay with me for a long time.
"Guns, guns, guns ..."
As a European, I find it incomprehensible as to how the American public can justify allowing weapons to be a part of public life - but they do. Stephen King's take on the topic is honest and interesting. As a gun-owning liberal he manages to see beyond the hyperbole both sides of the battle hurl at each other, while grasping the reality of living in a society which is already drowning in more firearms than any army should ever need. An excellent and thought-provoking listen.
This is an astonishingly good book: wonderfully written, craftily crafted and beautifully brutal. Firstly, that whole interwar period of the 1920's and 30's (especially in Germany) has always been a bit of a black hole for me, as history lessons in school were dominated by the World Wars, but here Ben Elton brings the Weimar Republic to life, with its extremes of poverty, decadence, violence and jazz. Secondly, it's also always been incomprehensible to me how the German public allowed the 'Final Solution' to actually happen, but as Ben Elton beautifully lays out here, it was a long, gradual, poisoning process that the nascent Nazi party put at the heart of its insane manifesto, and they took their time: small, ‘reasonable’ steps - all for the good of the nation - to bring it to its horrific conclusion. So the historical setting of the story had me from the very start, and so did the characters.
The family at the centre of the novel are wonderfully real (and having the twins being born on the same day as the Nazi party was officially formed was a genius touch). The cast of characters in the book range across the spectrum of classes in society yet everyone is drawn naturally and believably; they’re mostly people just caught up in the gale of the world, getting by as best as they can - none more so than the 4 children whose story we follow most closely. And the city too is used to reflect the changes each new era brings about: it brightens and comes to life in the boom years, then ages and darkens as Hitler’s spells wear off.
The plot is perfectly structured; it gives hints of things to come, while at the same time teasing you with false trails and dead-ends; this was that rare book that made me literally laugh out loud and cry in public (especially embarrassing as I’m a postie, and was listening to this on audiobook …).
So, overall, an incredible book - and beautifully narrated too - that’s going to stay with me for many years to come - thoroughly recommended!
"Unexpectedly personal ..."
Firstly let me say that I’m really enjoying the whole Canongate Myth series so far (I’m 5 books in now). I’m finding them all interesting, challenging, personal accounts of how story/myth has affected the various authors and their world views. ‘Weight’ carries on in the same vein, and Jeanette Winterson’s mix of autobiography and mythical tales works brilliantly, especially as the two other narrators take the roles of various characters in the stories. I thoroughly enjoyed this audiobook, and though it is short it is in no way trivial or an easy read.
This was a wonderful 15 hours of pure audiobook escapism, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There's plenty of action, and the twists and turns in the plot keep the characters on their toes. The writing is fairly straight forward but Charlie Norfolk narrates it wonderfully and got me totally hooked so I'll definitely be carrying on with the trilogy. Great stuff!
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