Thursday, March 27, 2014

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (audio)

genre: fiction

Vanity Fair.  You frightened me, with your length and your subtitle: a novel without a hero.  I think I tend to like heroes, so I was unsure of whether or not you and I would get along.

But, thank heavens, we did.

Luckily, I listened to you. I have found that I much prefer to listen to British people reading British books to me, especially "classic" British books.  So, I listened to the narrators of all of the four unabridged productions, and picked the one I liked best and WOW, was he a winner.  For 31 hours (nearly three months worth!) I listened to your tale of greed and society, of Rebecca and Amelia.  Two women with completely different desires and completely different ways of attaining them.  Becky, the vicious and underhanded freeloader, lover of all things fine, worst mom EVER and with a tenacity that just won't quit.  As we follow her life from boarding school, into the Napoleonic Wars and beyond, we are drenched in a world of glitz and fortune on the one hand - and of ruin and poverty on the other.  Many of your characters vacillate between the two and whichever one they are in, chances are they may soon be at the other.

I loved your unnamed narrator.  LOVED him.  He had some snark, his own wit and vague experience helping us see Vanity Fair for the pretend-world that it is.  As he guides us through London and old rambling country estates, to the fields of war in Brussels to India's steaming colonies, he introduces us to a score of people who are so self-absorbed and either so stubborn or so easily swayed that their lives almost seem to fall out of their control.  There are some very notable exceptions, and while it's true that your story doesn't really have a "hero" per say, there are a few admirable key characters that remind us that not everyone is fooled by the shimmer of Vanity Fair and that, when you see beyond it, there might actually be some unsullied happiness to be found.  Because otherwise, in your story, happiness is a very rare thing.  Good thing your narrator kept things light, because I am a lover of happy stories and the narration managed to help me remember that in satire, one must use misfortune and folly to lay bare the hard truth.

Brilliant, this story. Not for everyone, I'll admit, but brilliant nonetheless.

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