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DIARY OF A PROVINCIAL LADY

DIARY OF A PROVINCIAL LADY
By E. M. Delafield • Read by Georgina Sutton

Exploitation never goes out of fashion

Trouble with the kitchen range, and Cook says the mutton has gone and will I speak to the butcher.” Guaranteed to soothe Christmas panics and help you to drop off to sleep with a smile, EM Delafield’s famous account of everyday life in rural Devon in 1930 was written as a satire, its chapters published weekly in the magazine Time and Tide.

Now it has the added fascination of summoning up a world we have lost, in which vicarage teas and Women’s Institute meetings are seething cauldrons of offended feelings and fights for status, and hats are de rigueur. It was so successful that Delafield wrote sequels, two of which (The Provincial Lady Goes Further and The Provincial Lady in America) extend the action to London and the US; both are also available from Ukemi.

Georgina Sutton reads all three with a nervous briskness that perfectly matches the Provincial Lady’s accident-prone impulsiveness. Hopefully, this audio

revival will attract attention to Delafield’s many other interesting novels; she is unfairly regarded as a one-book author. Consequences and Nothing Is Safe would both make fine listening.

AUDIOBOOK OF THE WEEK – The Times

Capital Volume 1

Capital Volume 1
By Karl Marx • Read by Derek Le Page

Exploitation never goes out of fashion

The conqueror will occupy your lands and then sell your resources back to you on credit and tell you all the time it’s a good deal for you. Marx said that multiple times in this book and that’s a metaphor he used to describe the fate of the working person (labor) when at the mercy of capital.

Exploitation and alienation are features not bugs in the absence of a government for the people. The plight of the working class in Europe for the most part was pitiful and hopeless during the time of this book and Marx does a yeoman job of documenting it. Just as burning cats might have been au currant in 1667 Paris and forcing children as young as 8 years old or forcing overtime upon workers or providing them below subsistence wages with dangerous work conditions was the norm in 1860 England, nobody sane accepts those norms today. The world has changed today but this book makes a case that we are only as good as the government that we have when they act in the interest for the people and not the oligarchs.

The oligarchs and the powerful will always alienate and exploit to squeeze the other who is not them up to the limit that they can get away with. The status quo is the default given as ought, the naturalistic fallacy which assumes ‘is’ means ‘ought’. The status quo and the given during Marx’s time was that 16 hour day was in the best interest of the working person, and the factories and workhouses said they were doing the working class a favor, and Marx was forced to refute that and a whole host of other givens as ought. Today, those kinds of norms seem anachronistic and superfluous, but that’s only because society has changed. (Ultimately, nothing ever really changes, even somebody I’ve barely ever heard of before today, Kayne West, recently said that ‘slavery for the slaves was a choice’ in America since it lasted for 400 years. The ignorant will always be ignorant because they don’t know they don’t know and aren’t interested in learning).

You ever notice how even the reality based journalism makes a statement such as ‘there is a shortage of fast food workers’ (the NYT did that on 5/4/2018 with reference to the 3.9% unemployment numbers that came out)? That statement really irritates me. What they really are saying is at the wages the fast food companies are willing to pay there aren’t enough workers who want to be exploited at those low wages. Marx will show even in his time period that kind of wrongheaded formulation was prevalent.

The masters of suspicion: Freud, Nietzsche and Marx all had their take on truth. Freud thought truth existed but we are in denial about it, Nietzsche thought the greatest truth was that there was no knowable truth, and Marx thought truth was discoverable through class. Marx will try to develop his foundations through class and its exploitation and alienation with theory of money, currency, labor and capital, and through his story telling.

And what a story Marx tells. He is incredibly gifted in weaving philosophy and religion into his narrative. I can say that most of what I read now days about Hegel has gone through a lens of Marx which is unfortunate because Hegel clearly could have another more relevant interpretation than what is commonly thought. Marx expects his readers to be cognizant of philosophy and will make statements such as ‘that would lead to the sophistry of Protagoras or the relativism of the Eleatics’.

There is a reason why the ‘Great Books of the Western World’ included this book in the series. Not only is Marx an incredibly good writer (while not necessarily being a great economist), he has something to say that is relevant for our time period and definitely should be read today. This Ukemi production is a treasure and I would highly recommend it. (And no I’m not affiliated with Ukemi in any way even though I keep reviewing and raving about their products. They just seem to have the books I’ve been reading because I just love the old classics that they have recently made available).

Gary. 5 Stars. Audible.com

Buddenbrooks

unbelievably talented narrator

This classic novel has been on my bucket list for years because it’s listed in most of the great literature polls, plus the author won the Nobel Prize. But I was blown away by how entertaining this book and the narrator are. I’m an audiobook junky who’s listed to over 400 novels, most of them classics and best sellers. I thought I was familiar with the great narrators. Before this novel I hadn’t heard of thos narrator. He’s damn talented. He’s the kind of narrator who devises a distinctive tone for each character, thus eschewing the need to figure out who is talking. I’ve decided to listen to his other books. I hope he does lots more to include Mann’s other classic, The Magic Mountain.

 

5 Stars Audible.com

Le Grand Meaulnes

Le Grand Meaulnes

Alain-Fournier • Read by John Hollingworth

A fine new version of the classic 1913 tale of an adolescent yearning for his lost love, set in an ancient chateau in the heart of France. John Hollingworth’s laconic but engaged performance is well judged.

Christina Hardyment – The Times

Four Arthurian Romances

Four Arthurian Romances

By Chrétien de Troyes • Read by Nicholas Boulton

Tales of King Arthur are the best-known work of the 15th-century writer Sir Thomas Malory. But WW Comfort’s elegant prose translations of the 12th-century French romancer Chrétien de Troyes take the listener in new directions with his stories of Erec and Enide, Cligès and Yvain, the Knight of the Lion. Chrétien also gave us an early version of Lancelot’s ill-fated love for Guinevere. Nicholas Boulton rises superbly to the solemnity of high chivalry.

Christina Hardyment – The Times

Land of Men

LAND OF MEN (WIND SAND AND STARS)

By Antoine de Saint-Exupéry • Read by Nicholas Boulton

AUDIOBOOK OF THE WEEK

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry flew rickety, unreliable mailplanes in the 1930s between Europe, Africa and America, which gave him a unique vision of planet Earth that is captured in this classic book, Terre Des Hommes (1939), known in English as Wind, Sand and Stars. It recounts adventures such as dodging cliff-faces in the Andes and the Atlas mountains, overcoming storms at sea or surviving a crash in the Sahara, and gives a sense of what it was like to fly alone, navigating by elusive beacons and the stars. More importantly, he expressed with a poetic lightness of spirit his insights about life’s essentials.

Nicholas Boulton reads Bill Homewood’s new translation with a boyish zest that perfectly matches Saint-Exupéry’s exuberance at being “right at the heart of mystery . . . a student biologist studying through the porthole the human anthill”. A year before he disappeared in 1944 during a reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean, Saint-Exupéry condensed his ever pertinent philosophy of what makes life worth living in his famous children’s book The Little Prince.

Land of Men: Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, read by Nicholas Boulton.

Christina Hardyment – The Times

THE SOCRATIC DIALOGUES – EARLY PERIOD VOLUME 1

THE SOCRATIC DIALOGUES – EARLY PERIOD VOLUME 1
The Apology • Crito • Charmenides • Laches • Lysis • Euthyphro • Menexenus • Ion

By Plato • Multi-Voice Production – Read by David Rintoul as Socrates and cast

*****

“A masterful recording brings Plato back to life”

As a fan of Plato, I had been searching for a complete set of the Socratic Dialogues, so I was very excited when I saw Ukemi recordings. I was even happier when I found out that Nicolas Soames, the founder of Ukemi, was previously in charge of Naxos Audiobooks and had produced many of my favourite classics. As for the production, it is well done and the actors give you a clear sense that they actually understand the ideas Plato was trying to convey: the pursuit of truth through questions, answers, and more questions. To me the attribute of actor-understanding is essential to enjoying any philosophical work in audible format and particularly with dialogues like these. In this case you feel as if you are in the room, experiencing the tension, with convincing protagonists attacking and defending competing theories of truth, virtue, and the good life. This is a very effective (and enjoyable) path to Plato. I’m currently on Volume 3 but I will definitely be buying the rest as soon as they are released. Top marks so far!

C J Deazeley – Audible

FOUR ARTHURIAN ROMANCES

FOUR ARTHURIAN ROMANCES

By Chrétien de Troyes • Read by Nicholas Boulton

*****

“Ukemi Audio: Doing the Lord’s Work”

Long before the Internet made almost everything available to just about everyone, a friend of mine would say of certain publishing houses that they were “doing the Lord’s work”.

He meant that, despite the cost of production and the inevitable loss in the marketplace, these houses persevered in turning out slim volumes of the lesser-known Elizabethan sonnet cycles and classic works of history eclipsed by more up-to-date scholarship. If he were still with us, he’d probably say Ukemi was doing the Lord’s work for audiobooks.

This edition of Chretien de Troyes is the third Ukemi release in my library, joining Boetheus’ Consolation of Philosophy and the amazing, anonymous Mabinogion. Like the first two titles, this one is superbly, vigorously, read. Like the first two, the translation is of a rather reverend vintage, well within the Public Domain.

At first that made me wary; though no chronological snob (C. S. Lewis’ term for one dismissive of past ideas and ideals) I appreciate what modern scholarship can bring to the translation of ancient texts. But beyond a certain stiltedness in Boetheus, my fears have proved groundless. In the case of Chretien, I’m grateful for this prose version. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading the deftly rhymed verse translations by Ruth Cline and Dorothy Gilbert, these fabulous stories, told in four-beat couplets crowded with details, would probably be harder to follow through ear buds.

If you clicked on this book, chances are you already know these stories, so I won’t dwell on their origins and influence. You know about Marie de Champagne; you get the irony that Britain’s greatest hero was celebrated most enthusiastically in France; you know that two of these tales—Yvain and Eric et Enid—are variations of stories that appear in the Mabinogian (which should make for some interesting comparative listening). It only remains to say that the performance by Nicholas Boulton, though a tad hurried, is superb.

No doubt professor Comfort’s essay at the end of this recording would not pass muster in the modern academy. Nevertheless, it is still a solid exposition of the zeitgeist in which Chretien worked, his possible influences, the strengths and shortcomings of his work, and his ultimate place in the Western literary tradition.

REVIEW ON AUDIBLE

BEWARE OF PITY

BEWARE OF PITY
By Stefan Zweig, Read by Nicholas Boulton

Nicholas Boulton’s performance of the only full-length novel of the great Stefan Zweig is impeccable, impassioned, and moving. Zweig’s storytelling here is old-fashioned, feeling almost Chekhovian at this remove. Set right before WWI, it’s a domestic tragedy told in the shadow of the looming destruction of a world and about a young Austrian cavalry officer trying to behave honorably to a rich but hysterically needy crippled girl with whom he is entangled. Boulton’s Lt. Hoffmiller is both an exotic to us and utterly familiar as a young man whose not-uncommon flaw is that he doesn’t understand his own emotions. Zweig’s achievement is to show what damage this can do on small stages or large; Boulton’s is to make us vibrate in sympathy with Hoffmiller.

B.G.
Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine [Published: OCTOBER 2017]

Nicholas Boulton’s performance of the only full-length novel of the great Stefan Zweig is impeccable, impassioned, and moving. Zweig’s storytelling here is old-fashioned, feeling almost Chekhovian at this remove. Set right before WWI, it’s a domestic tragedy told in the shadow of the looming destruction of a world and about a young Austrian cavalry officer trying to behave honorably to a rich but hysterically needy crippled girl with whom he is entangled. Boulton’s Lt. Hoffmiller is both an exotic to us and utterly familiar as a young man whose not-uncommon flaw is that he doesn’t understand his own emotions. Zweig’s achievement is to show what damage this can do on small stages or large; Boulton’s is to make us vibrate in sympathy with Hoffmiller. B.G.

Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine

THE SORROWS OF YOUNG WERTHER

THE SORROWS OF YOUNG WERTHER

Wolfgang von Goethe, Read by Leighton Pugh • Unabridged • OCTOBER 2017

Written in 1774 when Goethe was just 24, this short novel is a series of letters written by a young man in the throes of impossible love with a woman who is engaged to someone else. Leighton Pugh is marvelous in his role as narrator. Although the epistolary form means there’s little opportunity for multiple voices, Pugh changes the color and timbre of his narration in all the right spots, enlivening the text and ensuring that it never sounds like a monologue. One of the appeals of this classic work is that Werther is charming and likable, despite his heavy burden. Pugh’s narration is equally energetic, never maudlin, and helps listener empathize with the doomed title character.

D.B. © AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine

THE WORLD OF YESTERDAY

THE WORLD OF YESTERDAY
By Stefan Zweig Read by David Horovitch

David Horovitch’s sublime narration of Zweig’s haunting memoir matches excellence with excellence, style with style. Completed the day before he committed suicide in 1942, Zweig’s narrative is a bittersweet medley of nostalgia and despair, starting with the golden turn-of-the-century years when Vienna was the center of European intellectual and artistic activity, all of which was destroyed with the Nazi ascent in Austria. Film director Wes Anderson has reawakened interest in Zweig, an artist who was once Europe’s bestselling novelist—and who, in time, saw his books burned in public. Horovitch sounds as you imagine Zweig would sound and portrays Zweig’s sensibility, style, and moral compass perfectly, and indelibly. And, happily, if you are new to Zweig, a long list of his slim, elegant novellas awaits you on audio, in English, German, and French. D.A.W.

Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine

The Brink of Destruction

This memoir of Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) is another of Ukemi’s treasures. Zweig was the most important writer of his day writing in German, but his work was banned by the Nazis. Translated into English, his memoir The World of Yesterday  was rescued by the Pushkin Press only within the last ten years. The translation by Anthea Bell (who concludes this beautifully sympathetic, exactly right narration by David Horovitch) is what a first class translation should be: it’s as though this is just how Zweig wrote it.

Zweig’s world of yesterday is the ‘golden age of security’  of the Austro Hungarian Empire in which he grew up, a wonderful time for Viennese high culture of music, opera, art and conversation provided mainly by Jewish intellectuals, a world Zweig creates in all it richness. As a child he met Brahms, looked on actors as supernatural beings and was fired with a passion for ‘things of the mind.’

His musings over the changing mores as time passed have a universal appeal. Growing up, women of his class were chastely swathed from head to foot, always chaperoned, and bridegrooms would have no idea of what was underneath –  a purity which existed  alongside thriving and rampant prostitution. Later women cut their hair, discarded their corsets, played tennis and, even if some did have stones thrown at them for doing so, rode bicycles. The insights he gives into his own writing explain the slimness of his novels:  he wanted to intensify the ‘inner architecture’ of his writing, to know more than he showed, to hone and omit. A good lesson for writers to absorb.

The memoir is filled with vignettes of great names, from Gorky, Yeats and Strauss to Rilke, Ravel  and Valéry– and a host of other Europeans I’d never heard of and are now, as Zweig says, mainly forgotten. His portrait of  Freud is a real person, suffering but determined as he neared death; with James Joyce he discusses German and Italian translations of words from Ulysses. His treasured collections included the quill pen and candlestick of his greatest icon, Goethe. He travelled widely, from Paris to America and even in India, observing and analysing with telling detail, as when he describes the peasants doffing their caps before artworks in the Hermitage in Leningrad.

But  ‘great evil swept over humanity’ with the onset of WW1,  after which he returned to a Salzburg in his ‘poor plundered unhappy country’ where everything was either ‘broken or stolen’ and hyperinflation  raged: squirrel for Sunday lunch, frozen potatoes, trousers made of old sacks, treasured possessions sold in markets. But he noted too how real value was found in friendship, art and music. His final heartbreak was the start of the rise of Nazi Germany with its systematic destruction of all that he held dear in humanity and the loss of his hopes for a unified Europe. These were horrors enough, but he didn’t live to see the worst.

The history in this memoir is all too familiar, but Zweig’s telling makes it fresh and new.  The World of Yesterday is a unique listening experience.

Rachel Redford, Audible.