LISTENER

Artemis

  • 11
  • reviews
  • 19
  • helpful votes
  • 27
  • ratings
  • Transcription

  • By: Kate Atkinson
  • Narrated by: Fenella Woolgar
  • Length: 11 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,216
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,112
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,110

In 1940, 18-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathisers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past for ever. Ten years later, now a producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Masterful

  • By Mary Compton on 12-09-18

Something of a let-down

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 15-01-19

I've read most of Kate Atkinson's novels. I thought Life After Life and A God in Ruins showed her really coming into her own as a writer and I had high hopes for Transcription. Yet again she plays a trick on us: just as Teddy was snatched from us in A God In Ruins, not all is what it seems in Transcription. While the final revelation about Teddy had me weeping, the about-turn in Transcription was a much more mundane 'Oh — really?' moment.

The fact that it seems such a difficult book to review may give a clue to the inherent problems. There didn't seem to be a lot of substance — and the things we thought we knew, and the characters we thought we had a grip on, turned out to be a mirage.

I wondered fleetingly whether Atkinson was quietly critiquing the spy novel genre. There's a banality and a dullness to both the spies and those spied-upon that upends all the derring-do and drama of so many WW2 spy narratives. It's well-researched, there's a lot of period detail, but there were also a number of characters, particularly the men, who seemed to be standard issue grey suits and were at times difficult to differentiate. The characters who made the most impact were the grotesques — the informers and the bit parts.

Difficult to say why it felt so unsatisfactory. I don't know that the lesson of the book — that choices come back to haunt you — is enough to hang the whole edifice on. I didn't take to Juliet and her very literal, pun-based humour and what seemed at times wilful blindness to / ignorance of what was happening around her. I felt played when it turned out that all was not as it seemed, while simultaneous acknowledging that this could be read as a reflexive nod towards the nature of espionage. Towards the end the novel lost the plot. What had been a story grounded in everyday detail suddenly slipped into traditional spy territory: the pursuit through fog, the sound of a cane being tapped menacingly on the pavement, an attack out of nowhere.

A God in Ruins was always going to be a hard act to follow. Every author has their highs and lows. If this is a low as Atkinson goes, it's not so bad.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death

  • By: Maggie O'Farrell
  • Narrated by: Daisy Donovan
  • Length: 5 hrs and 58 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 267
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 243
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 239

A childhood illness she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital. Shocking, electric, unforgettable, this is the extraordinary memoir from Costa Novel-Award winner and Sunday Times best-selling author Maggie O'Farrell. It is a book to make you question yourself. What would you do if your life was in danger, and what would you stand to lose?   

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 'where the axe may fall'

  • By Rachel Redford on 30-08-17

Exhausting

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
2 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 28-07-18

It must be ruddy exhausting being Maggie O'Farrell. From what I've learned of her in this book she is one of those people for whom normal expectations and limits are like barbed wire fencing them in. Alpha people: people who do things their own way, come what may. People who have been everywhere and seen everything by the time they are 40. People who want the best, the most exciting, the worst, the most extreme — anything but the mundane. The people who, even though they know they can't use one arm properly and have nearly drowned previously, decide to swim out to a floating platform off a beach while carrying their small child and don't, when they realise they're out of their depth, stop and turn back. I think it was that particular close-shave that made me step back and look at this book, and the author, differently.

I began thinking about issues of recklessness and privilege and self-dramatisation and the relentless me, me, me of it all. I know it's an autobiography but even so...

The really heart-breaking stuff is at the end in O'Farrell's account not of her own but of her daughter's suffering. It is horrifying, thought-provoking and something one would wish for no child or parent. As I closed the book and put it down I wondered whether it is O'Farrell's attempt to deal with the odds that are stacked against her daughter. In seeking to make her own already high-coloured and dramatic life seem even more dramatic and dangerous than it has been is she seeking to reassure herself that her daughter can survive in an infinitely more risky world than even the one O'Farrell inhabits, one where every nut and egg is a potential killer?

I see from the rave reviews that many people have enjoyed this book for what it seems to be. I am a poor swimmer, like O'Farrell. I seem to have been dragged down by the book's undercurrents.

  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

  • By: Gail Honeyman
  • Narrated by: Cathleen McCarron
  • Length: 11 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 13,025
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 12,009
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 11,981

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive - but not how to live. Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything. One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world....

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Viva Eleanor!

  • By Kaggy on 30-06-17

If only...

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 26-07-18

If only all loneliness, suffering and trauma could be sorted out by a haircut, make-up, new clothes, a kind colleague with a friendly family and a few sessions with a therapist.

I started out thinking that Eleanor was an interesting new voice and looking forward to exploring what it might be like to live in her mind and her shoes. But then it turned into a mediocre self-help type of book. Spend money on make-up, feel better: ditto boots and hair. All you need to overcome years of abuse, apparently, is self-love and some cash.

The lack of in-depth understanding of neurological atypicality, the effects of childhood trauma and the simplistic women's magazine-self-help solutions all trivialise poor Eleanor's plight.

The fact that it's a best-seller and seems so universally loved really bothers me because in essence it's such a shallow read.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • The Rainmaker

  • By: John Grisham
  • Narrated by: Frank Muller
  • Length: 16 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 424
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 395
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 395

It's summer in Memphis. The sweat is sticking to Rudy Baylor's shirt and creditors are nipping at his heels. Once he had aspirations of breezing through law school and punching his ticket to the good life. Now he doesn't have a job or a prayer-except for one: an insurance dispute that leaves a family devastated and opens the door for a lawsuit, if Rudy can find a way to file it. By the time Rudy gets to court, a heavyweight corporate defense team is there to meet him.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Favourite Grisham Book

  • By M on 02-12-14

Showing its age

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 13-12-17

Efficiently and slickly written, but formulaic. The core section — the trial — was compelling and certainly gives insight into the trial/court process and the medical insurance industry. But the whole thing is torpedoed by the stick-on romance that limps on for too long at the end. Was I the only woman to be dismayed by the way in which Kelly was repeatedly described in terms of her looks? Not a single dynamic, capable woman to be seen. Seems very old-fashioned.

  • The Poisonwood Bible

  • By: Barbara Kingsolver
  • Narrated by: Dean Robertson
  • Length: 15 hrs and 34 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 600
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 456
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 458

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them all they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it - from garden seeds to Scripture - is calamitously transformed on African soil.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • excellent read

  • By metalwork on 22-09-10

A great book ruined by a truly dreadful narrator

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
1 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-11-17

I had only managed to read half of The Poisonwood Bible when it came up for my book group, so decided to revisit it in audio format. What a mistake that was.

Dean Robertson, the narrator, races through the sentences so fast it's as if she's been given a completion time she must stick to on pain of death. There's no inflection, no slight pause at the end of a sentence: it's machine-like reading with no regard to punctuation and, worst of all, no differentiation between the various characters. Meaning and detail is lost in the rush. Given that the book is structured as a series of internal first-person monologues involving various different people, the fact that she moves without pause from say, the mother's 'voice' to one of the children's 'voices' and doesn't vary pitch, colour, speed or inflection at all, makes for a very confusing situation. I'm going to return the book half-listened to: I can't bear to hear her murder the text any longer and I'm sick of getting confused because I hadn't realised that it's the mother talking now, rather than the daughter.

I thought maybe I was the one with the problem because I notice a couple of people have posted to say what a superb job Dean Robertson did on the book. So I googled to find out whether she's done other work and I found an interview with her here:

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2015/08/01/audiobook-narrator-interview-number-four-dean-robertson/

in which she reveals that she was a teacher (no professional voice or acting training I presume) and this was her first 'professional' reading. She says: 'I’m going to describe my process for narrating The Poisonwood Bible, because that was the longest book I narrated and also the first, the finest, and a model for the others. It would still be the model if I did this work again. The work came up fast. They sent me a manuscript, which was dauntingly thick and, unlike my usual meticulous preparation for anything I do, I decided I just didn’t want to read it. So, the narration was my first reading."

Suddenly everything becomes clear. She picked up the script cold and ran at it. No wonder it's so awful. She didn't think about the different characters and find different voices for them. She didn't honour Barbara Kingsolver's wonderful prose by reading through carefully and looking for ways to create depth and texture. She opened it at page one and set off at pace. No wonder, when she's reading, she's like a machine that doesn't seem to have any idea where a sentence is heading or how one sentence reflects on the previous one.

If I were Barbara Kingsolver I would be horrified to think that the company who were recording my precious text gave the job to a first-time narrator with no dramatic or radio experience and who didn't bother to read the script before she recorded it. This book desperately needs to be rerecorded by someone who will do it justice.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Blood River

  • By: Tim Butcher
  • Narrated by: Tim Butcher
  • Length: 9 hrs and 41 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 162
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 92
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 94

When Daily Telegraph correspondent Tim Butcher was sent to cover Africa in 2000, he quickly became obsessed with the idea of recreating H. M. Stanley's famous expedition - and travelling alone. Despite warnings that his plan was suicidal, Butcher set out for the Congo's eastern border with just a rucksack and a few thousand dollars hidden in his boots.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • fantastic and addictive

  • By R on 08-09-08

Fascinating insight into the heart of darkness

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-11-17

Tim Butcher, a journalist who's served his time in South Africa and elsewhere, attempts to follow the journey his mother took in 1958 when his mother crossed the Congo on a holiday, travelling in relative comfort on river boats and trains and enjoying the final days of the colonial legacy of hotels, plumbing, decent roads, trains and most important of all, law and order. Now that is all gone: anarchy rules, the railways and roads are covered in jungle and Congo's citizens live at the mercy of whichever tribe or militia is in the ascendant at the moment. It's fascinating, informative and deeply depressing at the same time.

Recommended reading for anyone who's heard about yet another outbreak of war or violence in central Africa and wonders what it's all about and whether there is any hope that one day it will cease.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Various Haunts of Men

  • Simon Serrailler 1
  • By: Susan Hill
  • Narrated by: Steven Pacey
  • Length: 14 hrs and 44 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1,378
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 953
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 953

A woman vanishes in the fog up on "the Hill", an area locally known for its tranquillity and peace. The police are not alarmed; people usually disappear for their own reasons. But when a young girl, an old man, and even a dog disappear, no one can deny that something untoward is happening in this quiet cathedral town.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • An unusual way to start a series

  • By Linda on 27-06-14

Dull

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 30-03-17

Susan Hill has a solid and reliable style and I suppose those words sum up this book. It's full of respectable and rather sanctimonious people all doing good middle class things like singing in church choirs and baking and being awfully jolly and concerned. God, faith and duty hover over them in what seems an old-fashioned way. There's a distinct lack of irony, humour or spark in Hill's writing. It's all rather worthy.

I disliked all the dull, respectable women in this book including even the most promising of them, Detective Graffham, who falls in love with the blond, bland Simon Serrailer in a heartbeat. Of course it's a higher form of love, noble and pure: one can't imagine Freya or Simon as sexual beings.

The plot plods dully on until late in the day there is one shocking act that really does surprise. I can't help wondering whether the author had a discussion with her publisher and decided to kill off the character in question for commercial reasons, figuring that Serrailler was going to be a better bet in the long run.

The crime element is really rather tangential to the rest of the novel. Yes, there are murders and yes, there are police officers searching for the murderer, but they barely seem to meet for most of the book. If you're looking for a crime novel which focuses mainly on the crime then this will probably disappoint.

  • An Officer and a Spy

  • By: Robert Harris
  • Narrated by: David Rintoul
  • Length: 16 hrs and 4 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,540
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,421
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,416

January 1895: On a freezing morning in the heart of Paris, an army officer, Georges Picquart, witnesses a convicted spy, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, being publicly humiliated in front of 20,000 spectators baying ‘Death to the Jew!’ The officer is rewarded with promotion: Picquart is made the French army’s youngest colonel and put in command of ‘the Statistical Section’ - the shadowy intelligence unit that tracked down Dreyfus.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Excellent

  • By Julian Summer on 12-10-13

A wonderful, compelling read

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-03-17

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Absolutely. Like so many people I'd heard of the Dreyfus affair and Zola's J'Accuse and had a rough idea what it was about, but Harris's account brought home the full horror of what happened to Dreyfus. What happens to whistleblower Picquart, the narrator, was also a reminder of what has happened to Snowden and Manning and others who've found themselves up against the state. It's as compelling as any fictional thriller and totally relevant to today.

This is Harris's great strength and gift: retelling history. This book and his Cicero trilogy have a roundedness and depth that his other novels lack. Highly recommended.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Archangel

  • By: Robert Harris
  • Narrated by: Michael Kitchen
  • Length: 11 hrs and 54 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 185
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 168
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 167

When historian Fluke Kelso learns of the existence of a secret notebook belonging to Josef Stalin he is determined to track it down, whatever the consequences. From the violent political intrigue and decadence of modern Moscow he heads north - to the vast forests surrounding the White Sea port of Archangel, and a terrifying encounter with Russia's unburied past.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • A let-down

  • By Artemis on 19-02-17

A let-down

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
2 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 19-02-17

Would you try another book written by Robert Harris or narrated by Michael Kitchen?

I've read/listened to a number of Robert Harris books. I loved the Cicero trilogy: that was what bought me to this author. This was a disappointment.

Would you recommend Archangel to your friends? Why or why not?

No. Interesting premiss but it became ungrounded and unbelievable and ended up as a cliche-ridden caper in the snow.

With Trump in the US and a slide towards the right in Europe, the issue of the attraction of psychopathic dictators seems even more pertinent than it was when Archangel was written. The chases, the shoot-outs, the double crosses and the Son-of-Stalin-supervillain didn't treat the subject matter with the gravitas it deserved. The reality of Trump and Putin is worse than the spectre Archangel conjures.

Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Michael Kitchen?

David Rintoul has done quite a good job on other Harris outings. No one can touch Bill Wallis, but he is no longer available.

I am usually an admirer of Michael Kitchen but his staccato delivery and absolute determination to find unusual stresses and avoid anything approaching a 'lush' reading left me alienated and vaguely irritated throughout. His style distracted from the content. I was regularly left wondering why he'd chosen to stress certain words and missed chunks of the story.

On top of that, the thing was terribly badly recorded, with sudden changes in sound level and patches where a section or even just a few sentences had been re-recorded and dropped in without any attempt to balance sound levels or match the vocal tone. The opening was particularly bad. Lots of poor edits. Very off-putting.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Neither Here nor There

  • By: Bill Bryson
  • Narrated by: William Roberts
  • Length: 9 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 841
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 667
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 666

In Neither Here nor There Bill Bryson brings his unique brand of humour to bear on Europe as he shoulders his backpack, keeps a tight hold on his wallet, and journeys from Hammerfest, the northernmost town on the continent, to Istanbul on the cusp of Asia.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Was thinking of stoppong half way through

  • By David on 08-07-16

Bryson at his worst

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-02-17

Any additional comments?

I've read various books by Bryson over the years and normally like his humour, but this was dour, whiny and had far too much embarrassing national stereotyping to be funny. I see now, too late, that this was his first foray into travel writing and he doesn't come across as particularly likeable or amusing. Thank goodness he learned from this experience.

Choose Notes From a Small Island or later works, not this.