Sunday, March 17, 2013

Breakage

To paraphrase Ranganathan: Every audiobook its listener. Somewhere out there is a person (likely more than one) who will enjoy Caleb Carr's magnum opus: The Legend of Broken.  That person is not me. I stuck it out -- all 36 hours -- because I believed I might be getting another book like The Alienist (which I remember reading, but don't really remember) when I asked the Audiobook Jukebox for a copy. And since Audiobook Jukebox obtained me a copy, I felt obliged to listen. But it wasn't easy: I listened to five other audiobooks while I worked my way through this bloated piece of fake history.

For something that clocks in at a day and a half, there should be more to it. The Legend of Broken spends hours and words building up to a great confrontation between two factions of a 8th or 9th century European society -- one that will decide the future of that society -- only to end in a fizzle. Pretending to be a lost manuscript, discovered by Edward Gibbon (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) who wrote his friend, Edmund Burke, about it. Burke warns Gibbon that the story is too radical (huh?) and Gibbon tucks it away until it is "found" amongst his papers by Carr. Carr annotates the story to death (once the novel ends, there are FOUR AND ONE HALF HOURS of notes). This isn't a novel, it's a self-indulgent display of "scholarship." Carr's not interested in his readers (unlike Ranganathan), he's only interested in making sure we know how much he knows.

This approach to storytelling is boring. And it's boring capped by trite, more-often-than-not awkward writing.  I'll share some quotes pulled out by reviewers more skilled than I.  "Between the overhanging branches of the trees that so desperately grab the rocks on both sides of the ever-furious river" (from the New York Times).  "Although graced with angular, handsome features, he scowls out harshly from beneath a bristling shock of auburn hair" (from the Boston Globe). "'Ever the pedant, even without your legs, eh Caliphestros?'"(from Entertainment Weekly).

OK, now I know I'm piling on: NOTHING HAPPENS. Things are explained by characters in that awful expository dialogue, the narrator would then explain them again, and another character might chime in for the third time (or it arises again in the NOTES). Sentences run on and on and on. I would listen -- finger poised on the pause button -- for the end of a sentence that never came. Eventually, I just gave up and shut it off willy-nilly.

But wait, the characters. Oy vey.  Not actual people, not even archetypes. Utter cardboard. Noble military hero - check.  Loyal (still beautiful) wife of noble hero - check.  Power-hungry ruler with the hots for the wife - check. Effete religious figure - check. Forward-thinking religious figure (complete with white panther) tortured and banned  - check.  Quirky (they are short!) folk who are one with nature - check.

I'm not even going to bother with summarizing the 36 hours of non-story (it's a Game of Thrones wanna be, suffice it to say), but go straight to the audiobook.  The endless hours are narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds, a narrator new to me. Considering that even I -- the Finisher -- would never have endured this book in print, I can only say that Reynolds kept me afloat in this sea of mediocrity. He reads with an assured English accent and just keeps going. He has sufficient skill with character voices that dialogue is easily followed and no one sounds like an idiot. He would occasionally change his delivery so significantly that I thought there was another reader, but I think he was just starting again after a break (and there must have been a lot of breaks). The few women in the story are acceptably feminine without being swishy. I don't believe that anyone could keep this novel interesting, so I applaud him for his effort.

The audiobook has two other readers. First, George Guidall, who reads the notes. These footnotes come at the end, but refer to instances throughout the story. So they are almost 100% pointless in an audiobook as they come entirely out of context. Some were downright weird, like reciting the web address of a site dedicated to saving big cats, or a lengthy discussion of Gibbon's swollen testicle. The major plot development that begged for a note (Greek fire) was not explained in any way. Guidall is an experienced narrator, but not a favorite of mine as I just listen to him getting juicier and juicier the longer he goes on.  He reads the notes with commitment and even interest, but by this time I was just focused in reaching the finish line.

The third narrator is John Curless, who reads the letter of Burke to Gibbon (or maybe it was Gibbon to Burke). In his brief appearance at the beginning of the novel, he chooses to read the letters in a careful, slightly artificial style that I believe is intended to represent 18th century educated correspondence.

To top it off, this book behaved very oddly once it was transferred to my Sansa Clip. I would transfer about 10 to 15 tracks (of 108!) at a time because they would show up on the Clip in an utterly random order. I should be grateful that the tracks were lengthy ones, so I didn't have to keep clicking around to get them to play in the correct sequence. Each individual track also looked funny while playing: You know that line that moves from left to right as the track plays itself out? Well, that line was a completely inaccurate reflection of the amount of time left to play in this instance. Just ONE MORE THING making this listening experience unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.

I am appreciative of the gift of a professionally produced audiobook from Simon & Schuster Audio as part of the Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer program. I aim to find it a home where it will be loved.

[Edmund Burke's portrait is from the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds; Edward Gibbon's (in the oval) is by Henry Walton. Both hang in England's National Portrait Gallery, and were retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

The Legend of Broken by Caleb Carr
Narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds, George Guidall and John Curless
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2013.  35:58

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Thanks for hanging in there! I don't think I could have taken the footnotes, on top of the lengthy story.