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Edith Wharton's novel is deliciously enjoyable, especially if you delight in watching detestable characters crush one another and see people behave more brutishly and vulgarly than you could have expected. By "people" I primarily mean the wonderfully named Undine Spragg, a social climber who bulldozes as many people as she can to attain an ever escaping, ever elusive goal of social grandeur and wealth. Wharton's satiric, witty, whip-smart writing fairly sparkles here, and the entire novel has lighter touch, perhaps because about half of it is in the mind of a buffoon, rather than the plodding Archer of Age of Innocence, for example.
But I really want to write about Barbara Caruso here, who should narrate EVERYTHING. She reads with warmth, humor, wit, and imparts an incredible understanding of each of the characters. I wonder about the difficulty of being a reader—she has to play every role, and she does so splendidly. Conflicted characters like Undine, whom one would normally expect to hate, are given depth and conviction. Brava.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
I would highly recommend this version of "The Custom of the Country." The reader, Barbara Caruso, does a superb job of conveying moods, characters' distinct personalities, etc. without overwhelming the narration or putting herself (her voice/performance) at the center of the experience. Her voice does not distract but adds to the beauty of a great classic.
There is nothing I can say about Wharton's writing that hasn't been said far better by over a hundred years of scholarship already.
What a masterful writer she was! Every paragraph is crafted so magnificently that it makes one feel sorry for our contemporary authors who always use the most obvious words and the most unimaginative phrases to say the most common things--thus *not* elevating them (as Wharton does) out of their everyday drabness. One example for all: I recently listened to "The Handmaid's Tale," and I remember thinking "there is not one single beautiful sentence worth remembering"--it's just only plot (and not a well written one at that). An author like Atwood would write that the characters of her story were afraid of getting fat. Fine. BUT Wharton writes of her character that she "shuddered at the
thought that she might some day deviate from the perpendicular"... heeeheehee :) GENIUS! *That* is great writing.
I highly recommend this fantastic story that captures a certain upper-class (mean) spirit so well to everyone (esp. Americans). And hats off to Barbara Caruso for a perfect performance.
The recording is slightly glitchy at times, but no text gets lost when those little hiccups occur.
I was looking for another Edith Wharton and listened to all the 'samples' of 'The Custom of the Country' and thought that this one sounded like the best narration.
I often find the scruples of Wharton's characters rather difficult to sympathize with- so it was something of a relief to come across Undine Spragg- who has no scruples at all- she's just a naive, selfish monster battling (rather pathetically) towards a happiness that always lies just beyond her. Certainly she's repulsive but it makes for an interesting character. - and there is plenty of gorgeous period detail along the way.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful