Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Source: Librivox (zipped mp3s)
Length: 12 hr
Readers: narrated by Bob Neufeild, voiced by many

The book: The lower classes do all the work and have little to show for it, while the rich get richer. Charles Dickens saw the same problems 150 years ago that people are protesting today. Like Upton Sinclair in The Jungle (previously reviewed), Dickens blends fiction and social activism in his attack on industrialization and the plight of the working class.

Unlike Sinclair's muckraking style, Dickens lacks authenticity in his novel. At the time of writing this book, Dickens was already a well-known writer, so it's unlikely that his sources were anything better than second-hand accounts of life in the factories. Instead of realism, Dickens makes his industrialists into blatant cartoons, bluntly criticizing what he did not know. Still, the novel is readable for Dickens' sense of humor and his trademark pathos. I just wish he had taken his approach more seriously and shown the real pathos in the working man's life.

Rating: 6 / 10

The readers: This book is presented as a dramatic reading, somewhere between a play and a narration. None of Dickens' words have been changed (the "he said"s are even still there), but different readers play each part. This can be a great help in keeping track of who is who, but it gets a bit disconcerting to hear all the different voices, especially since they have different accents and recording equipment. The parts are done very well, for the most part, and edited together nicely. Bob Neufield, as the narrator, does most of the speaking. The main parts are all well-acted, but I won't spend time naming names. This is an interesting way to present an audiobook and, for the most part, it works.

(Entered in Cym Lowell's Book Review Wednesday. Follow the link to read reviews of other books)

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