Two-fer – A Double Review of Two Audio Books

Due to a Christmas and New Year break – in which I did virtually no blogging, but was still reading, I’m now a little behind with reviews so the next couple of weeks will be a little more active as I try to catch up.

Today, I’m posting mini reviews for two audiobooks that I listened to during the last few days of December – one of these was a festive story that strictly speaking I would have liked to have posted pre-Xmas (but the best laid plans, etc, etc) – regardless of timing, I enjoyed both.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, narrated by Hugh Grant.

AChristmasCarol

This is a story that I have reread many times over the years.  A well known tale of one man’s redemption and overall a story of hope.

I won’t elaborate greatly upon the plot as I’m sure most people are well aware of the basics of this well loved classic.  Ebenezer Scrooge is a selfish man – in fact over the years his very name has become synonymous with anything miserly or avaricious.  He works long hours, constantly striving for success yet taking no pleasure in his wealth.  He is penny pinching and mean spirited, not just to others but also to himself. His path is one of misery, not only in this life, but if he doesn’t change for the better, in the afterlife as well.  On Christmas Eve, he is paid an unusual visit by Jacob Marley.  Jacob was Ebeneezer’s business partner, dead these last seven years and paying the price of his pernicious greed in life by wearing a heavy and burdensome chain in death.  He seeks to save Ebeneezer such a fate and plans an intervention from three ghosts.  The ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.  These visits reveal much.  Scrooge wasn’t always such a bitter and twisted individual and but for the hand of fate could have found himself on a very different path.

This is a story than never fails to work it’s charm on me and once again I found myself spirited away to Victorian London as it prepares for another Christmas Day.  Carols are being sung, turkeys are being prepared, children are skating on the icy streets and one cold office remains open to the bitter last.  Dimly lit and poorly heated, it’s occupants won’t go home until the close of day.  Ebenezer Scrooge and his uncomplaining clerk, Bob Cratchit, are where our story begins.  My full review of a previous reread can be found here.

I thoroughly enjoyed this audio version.  It’s told by Hugh Grant who is a superb narrator and whilst I can’t compare it to other readings (this being my first (but definitely not my last) for this particular novel) I would definitely recommend it.  Of course, I set the scene well, listening to this as I was undertaking my own Christmas preparations and being very much in the mood for everything and anything seasonal.

I found this every bit as enjoyable as my past rereads, it truly is a wonderful story to listen to written in simpler times when people would gather round to tell stories to each other.  In fact Dickens writing style really lends itself to this form of storytelling.  This has a great balance between the bleak and the sensational and given the seasonal feel is a lovely tale of hope and redemption.

I have no hesitation in recommending this audio version and in fact I picked up a copy for free on Audible and understand that the offer remains valid for members until the end of the current month.  So, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy – then you’ll be prepared, well in advance, for next Christmas.

Rating 7.5/8 out of 10

 

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham, Dina Gregory narrated by Cush Jumbo, Harriet Walter, Aimee Lou Wood, Susan Wokoma, Jennifer Saunders, Raj Gatak, Clare Corbett, Gerard McDermott, Stephanie Racine

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‘This is an all female retelling of a classic.’

Okay, first things first.  This was another free audible book for members – a holiday gift in fact.  And, in my excitement at finding a present available for download (yes, I am still just as excited in adulthood at the thought of a prezzie as I ever was as a child) I failed to notice the ‘all female retelling’ element and grabbed a copy with positively indecent haste – my expectations were for a a new audio version of a classic tale – for goodness sake, if I’d taken one moment it’s fairly obvious from the cover that Toad is female and this is a different kettle of critters.  Ah well, something about fools rushing in. 

Now, firstly, I’m not averse to an all female cast, I’m also not averse to a retelling of a story and in fact have enjoyed many retellings of well known stories over the years, and, in fairness, I can see what the author was hoping to achieve in some respects, but, this one didn’t really work it’s magic on me.

To be fair, this is an excellent cast of narrators but in spite of some impressive narration I felt like there was something stopping me from truly enjoying this.  One thing that immediately springs to mind is the drawn out pace of reading.  Obviously, as an audio book, the pace can be increased and in this particular case I would say that it’s essential to do so, but this pacing issue detracted a little from the overall enjoyment – like the charm of the story somehow became lost in the need to slowly enunciate every word.

On top of this, and in spite of my enjoying retellings, I can’t help but feel a bit puzzled by this one because it follows the original story almost to the letter – simply replacing the ‘he’s’ with ‘she’s’ and calling the characters Mrs Mole and Lady Toad, etc.  It feels, for me, a little like a lost opportunity somehow, if you’re going to take a story and retell it then make it your own. Instead of telling the same story why not create a new adventure set on the river bank and the wild woods but with some of the female inhabitants of those places taking the lead roles with a whole new adventure to explore?

I think overall, perhaps if you haven’t read the original story then this might work better for you than it did for me and if you fancy giving it a shot I understand it is available for free on Audible until the 31st January.

Mr rating 4 out of 10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December Countdown, Day 29 : Christmas Cactus

December book meme (details here). Christmas Cactus – A seasonal read :

Christmas

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Posted On 21 December 2012

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For the month of December I decided to read a couple of Dickens book as part of an event being hosted by Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) and Delia (Postcards from Asia).  Actually, rather sensibly for me, I only really undertook to read two books – Great Expectations which I will review in a few days and a Christmas Carol which I will today be answering questions on provided by our lovely hosts.  If you haven’t read this book then you may want to stop reading as the Q&A below will undoubtedly contain spoilers.

Before I even start I must say that A Christmas Carol was just as lovely to read as it was on the past 5 or 6 occasions that I’ve already read it!  On top of this I also watched A Muppet Christmas Carol this month (just to keep in the spirit of things) – I actually had the film playing whilst I was putting up the decorations.  I love that film.  I realise it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I just can’t help myself.  Plus the songs are great.  How odd is it that in spite of watching this film countless times and reading the book quite a few it never occurred to me before now that instead of just Jacob Marley, as in the book, we have a double helping of Marley’s in the film played by the two curmudgeonly old guys who always used to heckle from the theatre balconies.  Anyway, onto the questions:

Is this the first time you are reading the story?

Nope, at least 5 or six times.  Difficult to remember now!

Did you like it?

I’ve always liked this story.  It has a timeless appeal.  I probably saw the film before the book.  I seem to recall seeing the old black and white version of this film with Alistair Sim followed a couple of years later by a cartoon version.  Anyway, the films led me to the books which is unusual for me as usually its the other way around.

Which was your favorite scene?

This is really tough.  Making a choice.  I do like the scene when Marley first appears – probably because of the dialogue between the two ‘more of gravy than of grave’.  I love that line (I also love the scene with Bob and Mrs Cratchit are toasting Scrooge’s health).  I think probably on reflection I really enjoy the scene where the last spirit has ended his visitation and Scrooge is back in his bedchamber and comes to realise that it’s still Christmas Day.  It’s great that scene and also, although I can’t pretend to remember how I originally felt when I first read the book it’s unexpected.  One minute you’re with this scary critter standing next to a tombstone and then you’re back in a bedroom and the sense of relief that comes across for Scrooge is just really infectious in that it sort of makes you smile also.

Which was your least favorite scene?

I don’t really have any problems with any of the scenes but I guess the only time I felt a little more detached was on some of the journeys with the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Not that I didn’t enjoy them – thinking about visiting the seamen, etc, I totally understand what Dickens was doing with these scenes but they didn’t have the same enjoyment factor for me and I think that’s because they weren’t related to Scrooge or his story.  They were random people who were being visited to show that the spirit of Christmas is everywhere.

Which spirit and his stories did you find the most interesting?

I liked the spirit of Christmas Past probably the most (although the sinister stories with the pawn shop were pretty good!)  I really enjoyed seeing Scrooge’s past.  His time spent at school, his sister, Fezziwig, breaking the contract with his fiancee – all a great insight into his character and the way he eventually changed.

Was there a character you wish you knew more about?

I wish I knew more about Scrooge’s family – particularly why he was left for such a long period at school.  How he managed to keep a decent relationship with his sister despite hardly ever seeing her and probably a bit more about his nephew.  I cheated a bit there because a whole family got included in this answer!

How did you like the end?

Well, I suppose the ending is very sweet – probably a bit overly so – but I like it.  It’s perfect for the time of year and gives you a good feeling.

Did you think it was believable?

Well, as believable as a ghost story can be.  I mean, what is believable is the story itself of somebody turning themselves around and changing their behaviour for the better.  It’s just a great story of redemption with a bit of the supernatural thrown in.  At the end of the day I love a good ghost story – and three ghosts with a message to relate, at Christmas.  It’s the perfect recipe.

Do you know anyone like Scrooge?

Yes!  Well, probably not quite as bad as Scrooge.  We definitely have somebody at work who could peel an orange in his pocket and who, when he opens his wallet, moths fly out.  Kidding aside – I suppose it’s more likely to know a few people with maybe one or more of his traits.

Did he deserve to be saved?

Yes, I absolutely believe he did.  Okay, he wasn’t soft and cuddly and he wasn’t short of saying or thinking some pretty mean sentiments but he pretty soon came round.  Plus, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him for his past which obviously had a massive influence on him.  He clearly went down the route of thinking money would make everything good in his world but obviously became so focused on that that he eventually excluded all the good things and therefore had nobody in his life to enjoy things with any more.  It’s sad because by the time Scrooge is redeemed he’s basically in his twilight year and has missed so much but it’s also happy because he’s realised the error of his ways and he is in a position to make a difference for others.