When I started listening to audiobooks, Mandee from Vegan YA Nerds put me on to Juliet Stevenson as a narrator and as usual her recommendation was spot on. Juliet is amazing! Over the last two months I've listened to all of the Austen novels she has narrated (every one but Pride and Prejudice) and I have enjoyed it immensely. I used to reread Austen's books every year or two, but since starting this blog I hadn't touched them. Listening to the audiobooks seemed like the perfect way to finally revisit them.
Juliet has a clear, engaging narration style, well-paced and just a pleasure to listen to. She is excellent at creating unique character voices - I don't think I heard the same one repeated across all five books. Each voice fit each character really well, and she switched between personas so effectively you forgot that it was only one person you were listening to. She did well with both the men and the women, and really brought them to life, making them seem like real and warm people, not distant characters in a classic.
Listening to the books also meant I got a lot more out of them than I think I have in the past. Juliet added nuance and texture to the prose that conveyed its meaning more clearly than reading it often does. It was much easier to pick up on the subtleties and Austen's wry wit with such excellent narration.There was a lot I noticed that I don't remember from previous reads. Here are some thoughts on each book:
I enjoyed this SO much more than when I was forced to read it in high school. Emma is an awful biatch for a lot of the book, but instead of finding that incredibly annoying, I actually kind of loved it. She's not perfect by any means and that is really endearing. The way her character grows makes for such an interesting arc. All the characters are delightful, and of course Mr Knightley is quite dreamy, if a little creepy with the whole "I fell in love with you when you were 13" thing. I LOVE that (spoilers but do spoilers count for a 200 year old book?) he moves in with Emma at the end rather than the other way around. Despite the age difference they have an equal partnership and I adore it.
This has always been my second favourite Austen book after Pride and Prejudice, but funnily enough I didn't enjoy it as much this time around. I still loved it, of course, but perhaps because I had just finished Emma, in which Knightley is a nearly constant presence, I really felt like there wasn't enough Captain Wentworth. Of course, it fits in with the story, and Anne's sense of isolation from him, but I didn't connect with him and their relationship as much as I usually do. It all felt rather rushed. I'm not sure if this was due to it being an audiobook or just me being in a different place to the last time I read it. Nevertheless, it was still a delight and oh THAT LETTER is still one of my favourite love declarations of all time.
Still my least favourite Austen. Of course, Austen at her worst is better than pretty much anyone at their best. Mansfield Park is a compelling and enjoyable story, but I just find Fanny and Edmund so frustrating. I actually liked the secondary characters so much more. They're not so perfect and prissy, and I found them much easier to sympathise with for most of the book. Plus what happens to them is so much more interesting - the scandal! The snark! It's so much fun. Fanny, meanwhile, is so weak and insipid, and Edmund is stern and completely clueless. Fanny spends the whole book mooning over him and it literally took til the last eight minutes of the audiobook before Edmund realised it or even thought about her as more than a friend (or, I should say, cousin). Definitely not my favourite romance.
Sense and Sensibility
I just adore this book. What I really appreciated this time around, which I perhaps haven't fully connected with in the past, was the beautiful family relationships presented, especially between Marianne and Elinor. I feel like the romances are almost secondary to the bond of the sisters, and I love it. Of course, I love the romances too. I really like Marianne's journey and the way her character develops around her romance plot. You can't help but feel for Elinor too. She's such a strong, great character. And putting up with Lucy, ugh - Lucy has to be one of the biggest bitches Jane Austen every wrote. Overall it's such a fantastic, interesting story with a wonderful cast of characters. I also would really like to read a prequel focused on Colonel Brandon's story now, poor guy.
Oh, Catherine Morland. I have such an affection for the silly, melodramatic girl. I feel like she is the original fangirl. Her obsession with fictional characters and worlds causes her so much embarrassment in real life. It's really cringe-worthy but also completely endearing. I'm surprised Northanger Abbey hasn't really had a modern adaptation yet, because it lends itself to it really well. Catherine feels like a normal 17-year-old. I adore Henry Tilney too. I love his sense of humour and lively spirits. I really like how Austen satirises novels and fiction while honouring them at the same time. It's a really, really fun book - as all of Austen's are!