Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Old Curiosity Shop

I listen to audiobooks while completing tasks that don't take a lot of brain power. Our small town has a small library with a small audiobook collection consisting mainly of bestsellers and Christian romances. It did not take long to listen to the few worthy audiobooks on the shelves. So in January, our family joined Audible, and each month we can download one book at no extra charge plus get significant discounts on other titles. Last month we chose Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop. The longer I read Dickens, the more I like him and his huge casts and intricate plots. I love his quirky characters and the odd names and professions he gives them: Mrs. Jellyby, the philanthropist who ignores her own family in her obsession to help the African natives; Mr. Gradgrind, the nightmare schoolmaster who thinks his student brought up with horses knows less about them than the student who can quote an obtuse dictionary definition verbatim; Mr. Venus, the bone articulator whose lady love objects to the profession; and the crippled Jenny Wren, dolls' dressmaker, to name just a very few. I love Dickens' explorations of various facets of life in Victorian England from the parasitic courts of chancery to dreary London orphanages to draconian schools for boys. So much of what Dickens wrote is still relevant in the twenty-first century.

I enjoyed The Old Curiosity Shop as much as I expected I would, which was quite a lot. I felt sorry for Nell and her grandfather, I detested Daniel Quilp, and I was sure of Kit's innocence. Dickens was a master of weaving the various strands of his plots together at the end and bringing them all to satisfactory conclusion, though sometimes, just as in real life, the "good guys" suffer and are not rewarded according to their deeds. The same is true for The Old Curiosity Shop. It is typically Dickensian.

The recording I listened to was marvelously narrated by Anton Lesser, first known to me as Harold Warne in Miss Potter (a completely delightful movie, by the way). His voicing of the wide array of characters, from the coarse Daniel Quilp to the gentle Nell, was just terrific. He is a truly gifted narrator. According to Wikipedia, Lesser has made many recordings of Dickens books and won an award for at least one of them. When I listen to Dickens in the future, I will seek out recordings by Anton Lesser. I can't imagine anyone doing it better than he.

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