If you could live your life over time and time again, would you/ could you ever get it right? That is the central question of this book. The next ques...moreIf you could live your life over time and time again, would you/ could you ever get it right? That is the central question of this book. The next question posed is if this ability to relive your life would be a gift or a curse. This is a book of fantasy and historical fiction. It poses philosophical questions concerning how life should be lived.
Atkinson's writing is clever, both the questions she poses and her ironic, satirical, sarcastic and often sardonic humor. Don't expect good-natured laughs based on happiness. It is solely because of the writing that I have chosen three rather than only two stars.
The book is confusing. Not only does the reader jump back and forth in time but also into different versions of the same story, the point being that there is not just one story. The stories overlap at points only to later go off in different directions. The reader must continually figure out if they have been dropped into a different version or a different time period of an earlier version. In addition, many characters are not introduced. When they are first mentioned you have not the slightest idea who they are.
By the end everything is interwoven. Picture a twine of yarn that is split at several points, each strand going off in different directions. The reader hops back and forth to different segments. Is there one "correct" ending? Is there one preferable ending? Is it possible to choose the final destination? Most importantly, what is the message of the book? Was the message worth the confusion? In my view, the answer is no.
I thought the author magnificently described life in London both during the Blitz and after the war. I enjoyed the segment set in Obersalzberg, at Hitler's residence Berghof, near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany, meeting up with Eva Braun. This IS a book of historical fiction. Events of both WW1 and WW2 are covered.
The audiobook narration by Fenella Woolgar was exemplary. Irish, British, American and French accents are all perfectly executed. I believe the audio version further enhances how people of different cultures "think".
You must keep a paper and pen nearby to jot down the date of the episode you are listening to. In addition, I recommend you read this book quickly; if you read a little each day you are sure to get lost! Good Luck!(less)
In conclusion, this is how books of historical fiction should be written. History is interwoven into the story and made fascinating. There is so very...moreIn conclusion, this is how books of historical fiction should be written. History is interwoven into the story and made fascinating. There is so very much history in this book, so if that makes you leery, choose another book. As stated below you follow a few families from 1895 through the First World War; the setting is primarily Victorian and Edwardian England and then the war years with excursions to Germany and Belgium and France. I adored the trip to Paris for the 1900 Exposition! Byatt, when she describes a place, a person, or an event you feel the ambiance of that event. You are there. You see the person. I will give only one example. At a wedding, the bride's visage "looked like the white wax of a candle, lit by a golden flame." Each character's behavior and appearance, the clothes they wear and the things they say feel genuine. You nod and think, yes, that is exactly what she would do, say, wear. I was enchanted by the clothes, the artistry, the sensuality expressed.
Rosalyn Landor's narration of the audiobook further enhanced these characters. This is the best narration I have ever listened to. She captures perfectly the different classes of the English. She speaks French and German equally well.
The book covers everything from literature, the classics and fairy tales, to Fabian socialism to the Arts and Craft Movement to puppetry to women's rights and of course politics. Sex too. All is covered with depth.....although sometimes there is simply too much to absorb! Some sections were too long and drawn out, and thus the book feels a little less than amazing. It is very, very good, even if you must hard-nose it through some chapters! Don't give up at the half-way point, when the story lags or when you get caught in a fairy tale. Let me repeat one more time, her characters, and there are many, breathe. This is important because you don't pick up this book to just learn; you pick it up for the story and to escape into the world Byatt has created for us.
I have listened to 3/4 of this immensely long book.......and guess what? I really like it again! Why? The characters are marvelously drawn. They are real people. How has the author managed to draw over twenty people with such precision? It is not that one is brave and only does brave things; that would make the character flat, two dimensional. Do you know any two people who are the same? Of course not! Each of these marvelous characters feels real, each in their own special way. Each fumbles in a way that they would fumble in the real world. That is the best way I have of explaining these people - the parents, the children, the friends, tutors, artists and acquaintances. Perhaps Rosalyn Landor's narration helps to individualize each character. In dialogs, the dreamy girl, the educated scholar, the creative authoress, the working class servant, each and every one of them, respond in a tone that fits who they are. The author and the narrator are working together to create a splendid performance. Think if I had given up on the book! What a shame that would have been.
I have listened to about half..... parts are very boring! Gaeta, who recommended the book to me, also described it as a "lumpy mattress". I agree. Parts are interesting, other parts are tedious and boring. When it is boring, as it is now, even Rosalyn Landor's excellent narration does not suffice.
If you read the book you will understand more thoroughly!
I realize now that it is not the Victorian style of writing, detailed and packed with information, that I object to; I like all the information packed into each sentence of this book! I have nothing against the writing style, if it is interesting as it IS in this book. My problem has been stuffy Victorian characters, ie those who care about saying the right words, wearing the right clothes and behaving and doing the "oh so proper" thing. It is these typical staid, proper Victorian people that irritate me, not the writing style! A.S. Byatt has so much to teach me!
The characters in this book are NOT staid or proper or stuffy in the least!!!! I love these people. I have only read three chapters though. This book is jam packed full of information about Fabian socialism, which I knew nothing about, and about pottery and the English Arts and Craft Movement at the end of the 1800s, about the history of Midsummer festivals and theater and politics and children's literature and artists and the conditions of the poor working classes. The book follows the Fabian socialist Wellwood family from 1895 through the years of the First World War. The mother, Olive Wellwood, is loosely based on the children's author Edith Nesbit. I am thoroughly enjoying this! Of course there are characters representing the staid Victorians too, Basil Wellwood is one; they add contrast! Tons of kids, each with different personalities.
Another VERY good one in this excellent cozy mysteries series set in Medieval England, in Shrewsbury near the border to Wales. My next one will be Mon...moreAnother VERY good one in this excellent cozy mysteries series set in Medieval England, in Shrewsbury near the border to Wales. My next one will be Monk's Hood. It feels repetitive to write another review, please see instead these two reviews:
I highly recommend the series. They do NOT have to be read in order, except 6 and 10 have to be read before 20, say my friends. The first one is not one of the best, so beware. Don't be put off if you insist on starting there. You get delightful writing and a clear mystery that is fun to follow and filled with action. The monks are great characters, each with their own particular idiosyncrasies. They become real people because in all the books their character doesn't change; so the more you read, the more you enjoy going back to meet them again. Some are nicer than others, so don't think this is totally unrealistic. These characters are more than nice versus bad, they are unique individuals: one LOVES anything to do with music, another has a good heart but always breaks things and makes messes, and then of course there is Brother Cadfael (pronounced Cad-file). He is Welsh, worldly, has fought in wars, been to the Holy Lands and now has returned and fills out his monastical duties working in the Abby's herbarium and solving crimes. Oh, I forgot. I was going to keep this very short.
My advice, don't start with book one. Start with my favorite so far, "The Leper of St. Giles". "The Sanctuary Sparrow" is almost as good but the mystery was a teeny bit harder to follow. As usual, all the threads tie up nicely. As usual, Brother Cadfael explains how he thinks for us, the Deputy Sheriff, Hugh Beringar, and the Abbot. As usual, the writing is NOT salacious, but lovely. As usual the crime gets solved and each get their fair due, in one way or another. You recognize a lovely constancy to how the stories unfold and are resolved. Lovely series. I just couldn't keep my mouth shut, could I?!
The narration of the audiobook by Vanessa Benjamin was absolutely wonderful. No complaints whatsoever.(less)
What I want to add here is that the author's words used to describe the English medieval world are beautiful and perfect. I didn't stress this adequately in my review of the previous book.
Taste these lines about the countryside filled with -
"richly wooded countryside" and "lush meadows" and "heads of trees" nodding before her or here "He had eyes like pebbles under a sun-lit brook, as hard and dear and as fluid and elusive in their glance..." (from chapters four and five)
"Plentiful timber of all kinds too for the wheelwright's stock. Elm essential for the stock. Oak to provide the cleft heartwood for the spokes with the grain unbroken and springy, subtle ash to make the curved fallows of the rim wood." (Chapter 8)
And when the action gets into full swing, there is ..."the blade flashing in the torchlight!" (Chapter 10)
I like how every element of the story is neatly tied up. I like how the events build to a crescendo, and then when you think you have reached the climax there is even more to the story! The murders pile up! I like how the women have strength, and when they get mad they really speak their mind. Agnes proclaims: "But you have not reckoned with me!" No characters added to the story are superfluous; each one has a specific role to play.
But what I loved best was the story, the mystery itself. I loved how it was solved. I loved every bit of it, how it all held together, and how I kept guessing to the very end. With the final words, I understood every single event! All the parts held together perfectly. This is a piece of perfect storytelling, from start to finish. And oh yes, you also learn about how leprosy was viewed back then in the medieval ages. This one gets five stars from me.
The narration by Johanna Ward was spot-on! Just perfect! No distracting background noise this time!
Everybody knows about this fabulous writer of historical cozy mysteries, murders and crimes, so what can I add? Just that, don't read the first of the...moreEverybody knows about this fabulous writer of historical cozy mysteries, murders and crimes, so what can I add? Just that, don't read the first of the Brother Cadfael series and think, that isn't SO impressive, and stop there! This was better than A Morbid Taste for Bones, the very first in the series. I am no fan of mysteries, be they cozy or not, but the characters in this series draw you in. You cannot help but enjoy learning a spot of history among these good-souled people. Being in their company is comforting. You sigh with relief - there are nice people out there! What I particularly like is how it is not the historical events themselves that are stressed, but rather how these events play out in the lives of normal people. This is what draws me into reading about history, not the titles and dates and battle skirmishes. No, it is how life was for ordinary people living at the time. I like that the mystery itself is clearly explained. Brother Cadfael and Hugh Beringar explain how they reason, how they have come to their conclusions. Others may find this repetitive, but I love it. I hate tricky mysteries where I do not totally understand what is going on! Oh, and thirdly, the description of medieval life is superb!
Wow, a mystery novel series that I will be returning to. My dear GR friends have explained it is not necessary to read them in order. I loved listening to the audiobook, and given the generosity of Audible (see below), I will very soon continue with The Leper of Saint Giles and then The Sanctuary Sparrow and then Monk's Hood. What next? I guess Dead Man's Ransom or An Excellent Mystery, but the last is not set in lovely Shrewsburg! I would choose One Corpse Too Many, the second in the series, IF it were available. That is where you are first introduced to Hugh Beringar! Thanks, Gundula, for persistently stating that this series is wonderful. I must thank both Gundula and Shomeret for guiding me toward the next choices!
THIS IS IMPORTANT: I purchased from Audible the audiobook format of this book. It had release date: 010197. Narrator Johanna Ward. This version had a different cover. The recording was bad, although I could hear it. There was a background rumble and sometimes you heard an echo where there should be silence. You heard voices in the background. So I complained. Audible has another audiobook (release date 070510). It costs the same, has the same length and narrator, but the cover looks like the one above. I suggested to Audible that they exchange the two. First they offered to repay what I had paid for the book, but because I had bought it on sale the reimbursement would not cover the price of the other version since the sale is now over. What did they do? They gave me a credit to buy the other version AND repaid what I spent AND gave me a 30USD coupon! Now tell me if Audible isn't fantastic!!!! I love working with Audible. I want people to know how wonderful they are.
So, if you get this as an audiobook, buy the one that has release date 071510! IMPORTANT.
BTW - this is good! I love the description of the medieval times. I am not fussing about all the details, just enjoying the story. I am not going to get all stressed up and worry about the incriminating evidence. I am doing exactly as Gundula has advised me. You know what? I actually understand everything anyway! So far at least! This mystery is in fact very, very good. Thank you, Gundula, for recommending this one of the series! It is my third. (less)