Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett; narrated by Eileen Atkins (1996, 1908)

I don't think this audio book could have been any better.  Eileen Atkins was a perfect, perfect narrator.  Her "voices" were just right.  She draws the reader gently but surely.  I was hooked within a few minutes, and did not want to stop listening.  Pure pleasure.

I was completely unfamiliar with this story of two sisters and their lives - one who elopes to Paris, the other who stays in her comfortable English industrial town.  I don't think  Bennett is doing anything revolutionary here, and I wasn't changed for the better after reading it.  I just enjoyed it, to the marrow of my bones.  Parts of it made me sad, parts of it made me smile, and towards the end, you are comfortably made aware of your own mortality.  It's a book I'd like to actually read rather than listen to, and may end up doing so.

I loved Bennett's description of a newly married couple's first fight.  I thought it really captured the moment when new couples have their first spat, and what potentially can happen.  It's great imagery too.

"Both of them suddenly saw that they were standing on the edge of a chasm, and drew back. They had imagined themselves to be wandering safely in a flowered meadow, and here was this bottomless chasm! It was most disconcerting."

Bennett, Arnold. The Old Wives' Tale (p. 104). Kindle Edition. 

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I listened to Eileen Atkins read this on streaming audio, and it is one of the best audio experiences I've ever had. Atkins is an incredible narrator; her "voices" are perfect, and she gently but surely draws the listener in. I was hooked after just a few minutes. Bennett's story, of two sisters, one who elopes to Paris and one who stays behind in an industrial English town, is simple but quite lovely. Sophia (wisdom?) and Constance (constant) are well drawn; Sophia's reaction to being left high and dry by her ne'er-do-well husband in Paris have shades of E.M. Forster; one can imagine a character in one of his novels doing and saying similar things, or perhaps Cousin Charlotte telling this story to Miss Lavish (A Room with a View. I don't think Bennett is doing anything particularly revolutionary here; nor did I come away changed. I just enjoyed this novel, down to the marrow. 

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