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A slog but well worth it.

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-06-11

So I finally finished Les Miserables. It took me five months to listen to the whole thing, a 60-hour audio book. There were several points where I nearly gave up, and one where I actually announced on Facebook that I had given up. But I went back to it and I'm ever so glad that I did.

Let me start by saying that this is a fantastic book. There were times when I was slogging through some of the digressions that I wondered just how this could possibly have been considered a classic. But now I know.

At first, I sensed a similarity with Crime & Punishment, which just happens to have been published in the same decade as Les Miserables, as indeed was War & Peace, which I have also read. The part where Jean Valjean, as Monsieur Madeleine, is fighting with his conscience about going to rescue the man who has been arrested as Jean Valjean and then his journey there, fraught with difficulty.

It's been interesting to read some of the reviews on Goodreads after finishing the book. They are almost all five stars and there are a few instances where readers have read the abridged version and then gone back to read the unabridged and enjoyed it ever so much more. As I was listening to it, there were many occasions when I wished I had downloaded the abridged version instead. I mean come on, pages and pages of description about the Paris sewers? The whole Waterloo bit? I honestly struggled through these parts. I wonder if it would have been easier to read than to listen to.

Anyway, I listened to the last 8 hours or so in a couple of days, at first because I just wanted it finished and out of the way, but then because it was just so good that I didn't want to stop. I had guessed how the novel would end, but that didn't spoil the ending at all. It was so well written that I was left with a feeling of elation that has lasted through to the following day as I write this.

Suffice it to say that I am very glad that I persevered with this and got to the end. I actually would quite

18 people found this helpful

A sleeper

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-06-11

It took me a while to get into this book. In fact, I got about a quarter of the way through and then stopped for a few months, although this was more to do with the fact that I was listening on my Shuffle in the swimming pool and then stopped swimming while I healed from surgery. I had to go back to the beginning again...

I loved the plot of this book. Although it was slow to start, it was definitely worth persevering. It was rather different to the other John Irving books I've read. David Colacci brought this to life really, really well. It was especially notable when Dr Daruwhalla was getting exasperated and angry! A stellar performance and a narrator I shall keep an eye out for on Audible.

The characters in the book are as lifelike as in any novel of Irving's, or indeed anyone else's. Mr Setna (I don't know the spellings, since it was an audiobook, so please forgive me that!) the steward at the Duckworth Club was superb. And how about Patel, the police commissioner!

I particularly enjoyed following Martin Mills and his change from blind faith to doubt. Both he and John D are 39 in the story, which just happens to be the same age as I am, so it was interesting to hear about how Martin was still finding himself. Me too!

The only thing I find annoying about Irving's writing style, and it's evident in all his novels, is his overuse of beginning a sentence with the word 'that'.

'That his something or other was big or small was evidence of his whatever...'. That kind of thing. I just find it overused and ultimately annoying as a result. But that aside, I loved this book!

2 people found this helpful


1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 23-02-09

I downloaded this after watching Shakespeare in Love and feeling inspired for some of the real deal. I have tried twice now to get into this and have managed to get no further than half-way through. I don't know if it's this production in particular or if I just don't get Shakespeare, but I tend to think it's this production as I have seen and enjoyed Shakespeare plays and have even read a couple. But do bear in mind when reading my review that I'm reviewing it without having listened through to the end. I just kept finding my mind wandering and could not engage with it at all.

2 people found this helpful

Great to revisit

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 23-02-09

I first read this about 25 years ago, when I was in my teens. It was the recent TV version with Rupert Penry-Jones as Richard Hannay that inspired me to download and listen to the proper book again and I was very glad that I did. It evokes the era very well and is written in rather a literary style compared to more modern spy novelists and, for me, that added to the enjoyment of the tale. The narrator had the perfect accent for it.

I'm sure that most if not all of you who are reading this review will be familiar with the story. If you haven't read it, you really ought to, and if you have, this audio version is a great way of revisiting the novel. I finished listening to this whilst sitting in my living room with the coal fire burning and the lights dimmed and it was definitely a moment. Its length makes it easily digestible in a couple of sittings so it's a great choice for when your credits are starting to pile up after having had long audible listens for a couple of months.

19 people found this helpful

Engaging and entertaining

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-07-08

I was born in 1971 so a lot of my formative years were spent under Maggie Thatcher's premiership. At the time I cared little about it, other than through the wonderful Spitting Image, which was food for playground banter.

Having recently moved back to the UK after a long spell abroad, I find myself becoming interested to learn about the period that I lived through but knew so little about. Though I cared little about politics until, well, until now really, Maggie stands firm in my mind like an icon.

John Sergeant's book is engaging and entertaining. It is interesting to hear the point of view of one who was so close to the action with the luxury of hindsight. For the layman (and I consider myself such), the book is easy to follow, although I did benefit from a few visits to Wikipedia and YouTube to learn more about the workings of British politics and see news reel footage from the time.

I have no other benchmarks against which to gauge John Sergeant's opinion of the events, but when he does give his opinion, it is always well backed up well. He does a great job of relating the key events, not only of Maggie's time as PM, but of her rise to become leader of the Conservative Party and her influence on her successors and her party; in a word, her legacy.

For those who do have a strong opinion of Margaret Thatcher, and I know that there are a lot of you out there, I think that this book will help to show the other side of the story, whatever side you happen to be on. But for those such as I without much of an opinion, you'll find this a highly informative book that gives a broad overview of Margaret Thatcher but it may leave you still wondering what to think. That's where I am anyway. I'm contemplating reading her memoirs, although I do like John Sergeant's book for its apparent lack of idealogical bias and I could really use some more books like this one.

In short, I enjoyed this a lot and could listen to it again quite easily.

15 people found this helpful