Saturday, 17 October 2015

Audiobooks Mini Reviews: Classics

It's been quiet on the review front around here this year.  I've been meaning to catch up with the books that I've listened to and read but obviously that isn't quite going to happen.  Enter, spate of reviewlettes.  There are some books that I've read and listened to that will get the luxury of their own posts but where my feelings aren't as deep and meaningful, mini reviews will do.  Starting with some classics...

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells

Edward Prendick is rescued from a shipwreck by a passing boat and eventually travels with his rescuers to disgraced biologist Dr Moreau's island.  As Prendick starts to investigate the animalistic screams that torment him in the night, he learns more than he wants to know about the grotesque experiments that Dr Moreau is carrying out.

As with so many classics, this book is most fascinating when you look at the context.  It was published in 1896, around the time when English scientists were pioneering work in animal vivisection.  The experiments that Dr Moreau was performing on his island were probably beyond anything that the activists at the time would have imagined but now?  If anything, the book is more scary because now we actually know just what might be possible.  The products of Dr Moreau's experiments and their struggle to balance their animal and human aspects and adhere to The Law are disturbing but do pose some interesting, lofty questions about what it is that makes us human and what it means to be 'civilised'.  It's a good story and it's not-so-subtly political/philosophical and it's pretty great.

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars for being tremendously creepy and for still being worryingly relevant over 100 years after it was originally published.  If you haven't read it, it would be a great Hallowe'en read.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

I've always remembered this book as one of my favourites from primary school.  I had what I thought were clear memories of the dreaded Black Spot and of Long John Silver and his parrot.  When I came across the audiobook, I was excited about the prospect of getting to relive a childhood favourite.  Oh, how disappointed I was after the initial flurry of fondly remembered activity in the early chapters gave way to a faintly dull story of battle tactics.

The story is probably familiar to most.  After inheriting the possessions of a former pirate,  Jim Hawkins and his guardians hire a boat and a crew and set sail to an island told to be the location of Captain Flint's buried treasure.  Unbeknown to Hawkins, he's sailing around with a band of swashbuckling pirates and about to find himself embroiled in mutinous plotting and double-crossing.  The first half was the good old-fashioned adventure that I'd been hoping for.  What I'd forgotten about (or had never been made aware of when I was a child) was the later section where two warring factions sat around on the island considering the best spot to inhabit and how best to battle their opponents and sort of occasionally fighting or engaging in a bit of trickery.  It was...not so great.  Clearly those supervising my childhood literary exploits knew what they were doing when they glossed over it.  It's a fun read, just not quite as fun as I'd remembered.

I will definitely still read this with any children that I might one day have (hopefully one like the pictured Barnes and Noble edition, which is frankly gorgeous) because I think it has some fabulous elements that really captured my young imagination.  Maybe there'll be some glossing over, though...

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars for dampening my childhood memories of rum-swigging pirate fun with tactics and island warfare.

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

I accidentally downloaded a BBC dramatisation of this one when I had half my brain on the decorating that the book was to entertain me through (glossing skirting boards needs livening up - shocking, I know). I wasn't sure whether that "counted" as a book but then I figured that I listened to the story and given that I wouldn't go on to read the book, it made the cut.

This was my first encounter with Miss Marple. I've been dubious before because I've always imagined the old dear to just be a meddler that somehow happens to be find herself near a lot of crime scenes and pokes her nose into an investigation before sitting back and watching everything unravel. I'm not sure that I'm entirely dissuaded that my rude assumptions were completely incorrect but I didn't seem to mind her manipulating ways by audio so maybe I could get into the Marple stories in my more patient hours.

In this outing, Elspeth McGillicuddy is minding her own business on a train when she glances out the window and witnesses a murder on a passing train. Reporting it to the police proves tricky when she can't identify the murderer or the victim and there's no body or physical evidence. Enter her friend, Miss Marple. The first few chapters annoyed me as Miss Marple manipulated Lucy Eyelesbarrow into posing as a housekeeper to infiltrate the Crackenthorpe household so that she could supervise and glory-steal from afar. Later, though, the story is a classic family murder mystery with a whole host of grossly unpleasant wealthy people infighting and plotting. What's not to like?

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars for not being as annoying as I'd expected and for saving me from the tedium of decorating.

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