Monday, September 22, 2008

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Length: Approx 10-11 hrs.
Reader: Dan Lezar

The book: One of the claimants to the title "First English Novel," Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719. Since then, so many adaptations, retellings, and borrowings have appeared that the story is familiar as a fairy tale. Like fairy tales, reading the original can be surprising to those who have only encountered its derivatives.

The novel shows its age in some places. Defoe was not writing with the advantage of centuries of prose fiction tradition. His plot does not flow in the way a modern reader expects, but instead progresses in fits and starts. Defoe cannot seem to end the narrative when it should end, but lets the book drag on after Crusoe's rescue. Defoe also betrays his colonialist attitudes: the natives, even Friday, are inferior and Crusoe has no moral qualms about slavery.

On the other hand, in some places the novel seems quite fresh and vibrant. Crusoe is an engaging character. Although he develops a tendency to moralizing, he can be optimistic and funny; essentially everything one would like in a desert island companion. The plot which lopes along leisurely for most of the book does have a few suspenseful moments, notably Crusoe's discovery of footprints on the supposedly uninhabited island. This episode, though I knew it was coming as well as its eventual outcome, kept me listening when I had nearly given up on the book. I'm glad I finished it, if only for the pride of having read one of the great foundations of Western literature.

Rating: 6/10

The reader: This recording is apparently taken with permission from cassette tapes produced by Random House. As such, the reading is professionally done, but the audio quality suffers from the technology. The reader has an excellent masculine voice that manages to unwrap Defoe's sometimes unwieldy sentences into listenable statements. The sound is full of tape hiss, which I was able to ignore most of the time by turning up the volume.

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