Saturday, 21 June 2014

Quick Audiobook Reviews: About a Boy, North and South and The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde

About a Boy by Nick Hornby, narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt
Will is an awful, self-centred, lazy, unemployed, rich, bored, philandering 36-year-old man child. Marcus is a sweet, weird, bullied, lonely 12-year-old boy with a suicidal mum and an absent dad. The two don't have anything in common but when Marcus latches on to Will, both their lives change forever. I wasn't sure that I would like About a Boy, because the only other Nick Hornby I've read was High Fidelity which I sadly hated. I had the impression Hornby generally writes the same type of unlikeable anti-hero, and while that was certainly the case here, I found the book overall to be very charming. I think it helped that the chapters were split between focusing on Will and on Marcus. It was Marcus' story that particularly got under my skin. I felt for the little weirdo, and I loved watching the development of his relationship with Will and the way they affected each other. The one drawback for me was that it seemed like Marcus had almost changed TOO much by the end. But I liked the way these two damaged characters helped and healed each other. The narration by Julian Rhind-Tutt was very good, and his voice for Marcus was particularly well done. It had the right touch of wonder and childishness without sounding ridiculous. About a Boy was a really great audiobook - I might even have to give Hornby's other books a go now.
Rating: 4/5

The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde: In Aid of the Royal Theatrical Fund, narrated by Judy Dench, Jeremy Irons, Joanna Lumley, Sinead Cusack et al.
I remember when I was a kid The Happy Prince was my least favourite fairy tale. It is just so bleak and depressing. This audiobook provided my first experience of Oscar Wilde's other fairy tales and yep, bleak and depressing is the theme for all of them. I don't think there's one with a happy ending. It got a bit much by the end of the book, frankly. Of course, the writing is exquisite and the pairings of some of the narrators - most especially Judy Dench, Joanna Lumley and Jeremy Irons - was divine. But after the first few beautiful but awful stories I found myself growing very impatient to get to the end of the collection. As wonderful as the prose it, it doesn't provide for a pleasant experience. I actually found The Happy Prince to be one of the LEAST depressing stories, and that is saying something.
Rating: 3/5

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, narrated by Juliet Stevenson
Oh I just adore this book. You know how it goes. Two people from different worlds meet and piss each other off but are secretly attracted to each other and the tension grows and ahhh it's amazing. But what's great about Gaskell is there's so much more to her stories than romance (although the romance is brilliant). North and South is about class divides and the struggles of life and faith and grief and love and friendship and learning and growing. It's truly wonderful. I don't love the religious parts myself but everything else I could connect with and relate to so much. Gaskell's characters are still as vibrant and three dimensional today as they were in their own time. Her third person narration allows insight into the minds of more than just the heroine, and this is particularly valuable for the perspective we get of the hero, John Thornton. The passion that simmers underneath his stiff exterior, which we actually get to READ about unlike in so many other classics, is extroadinary and oh-so-swoon worthy. I think I may even love him more than Mr Darcy. And THAT is saying something. As for the audio aspect, Juliet Stevenson is absolutely the best narrator I've experienced. She is SPOT ON with all the character's voices, absolutely perfect. I can't praise her highly enough. Outstanding.
Rating: 4.5/5


  1. So, I just bought About a Boy because of your review, ha! When you said "I felt for the little weirdo" I laughed out loud because I pictured the kid from the new tv version :)

    Hooray for North and South, you've made me want to re-listen to it. It's funny how big a part religion plays in some of the old classics (it can be a bit yawn-inducing), but the rest of the story is brilliant.

    Do you think there's a Juliet Stevenson fan club? If so, I think we should join!

    1. OMG, I can't get over how great Juliet Stevenson is. She needs to do ALL the audiobooks.

  2. We're reading About a Boy at the end of the year for FF, I hope that I can offer something to the discussion once I am done.

    1. There's definitely a lot to unpack in there. It's a good book.