Julian Fellowes's Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London's grandest postcode. Set in the 1840s, when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is peopled by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. At the Duchess of Richmond's new legendary ball, one family's life will change forever.
"...the story is expertly narrated by [Juliet] Stevenson, who paces it expertly in her highly listenable voice. Her delicious characterizations include some aggrieved and unctuous younger sons, a breathtakingly crisp countess, a good-hearted hero, a spirited heroine, shiver-inducing cardsharps, and oh so many more." (AudioFile)
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Fellowes is a Brand but the Narrator is a Marvel!
With Belgravia you get exactly what you expect from Julian Fellowes. After the success of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey as well as previous novels, he espouses the idiom of 'write what you know.'
If you liked one of his works, you will probably like the others. No surprises here with Belgravia. Aristocrats and strivers, upstairs, downstairs and melodrama. Factual events and people mixed with the fictional. What I found annoying in his other works (particularly Downton Abbey) I found annoying in Belgravia. Fellowes can be a very lazy writer. He will describe in detail a woman's attire, but when it comes to pivotal turns in the plot he glosses over with exposition rather than dialogue and action. (Without spoiling anything I will point out that there is a MAJOR dinner party scene where truths are laid bare that is told in the most wan expositional fashion.) Lazy. He often did this on Downton Abbey. On many episodes throughout the series, important scenes took place off camera, or worse, Fellowes would flash forward to avoid having to illustrate real drama (the time shift from Matthew's death to Lady Mary in mourning comes to mind). Fellowes also seems to revel in the petty. His characters seem so small minded. Are they a product of their time or just a laboured plot device? Hard to tell.
But you do get what you pay for. Like Campbell Soup or Kleenex tissue, Fellowes is a marketed brand. Nothing fancy or remarkable, just reliable. So if you are looking for a comfortable historical fiction detailing the haves and have nots with engaging dialogue, but nothing too taxing or revelatory, you will keep good company with Julian Fellowes Belgravia.
I will make mention of the fantastic work by Juliet Stevenson. Her narration is remarkable in its depth and variety. She is comforting and dramatic and empathetic. I know her as an extraordinary actress (Bend It Like Beckham, Mona Lisa Smile, and especially Truly,Madly, Deeply ) But she absolutely dazzles as a narrator! I have listened to some of her other audio narration ( the novels of Jane Austen, Bronte, E.M. Foster and my particular favorites: the novels of Sarah Waters) and it was her name in the notes that made me purchase Belgravia. Brava!
If I'm in the mood for a predictable historical novel of status, rank and melodrama.
She has an amazing range: dramatic, comforting and empathetic. I seek her out as a narrator. She never lets me down.
- M. T. Mirabile
Overall, good for what it is
Julian Fellowes is a very skilled writer. Belgravia seems to be set up to be a serialized TV show, like Downton Abbey but taking place at a different time in history (1825 and 1840).One of Julian Fellowes' and thus Belgravia's strengths is the depth of knowledge of history and culture that make this book more than just a fluff piece. I particularly enjoy a novel that is enriched with that kind of detail, although it was interesting that he chose to assume ignorance on his readers' part and use the term market cart seller rather than the usual term costermonger. All he had to do was provide the definition once and his readers would be smart enough to remember that. A very small quibble.
I did enjoy istening to this book. It is by no means great literature, it is rather like a period soap opera in book form, but well enough done that it is a fun escape. The beginning is particularly well done; as the book goes on, the plot is fairly predictable. I found the characters engaging (Anne in particular) and was very invested in their various stories.
I am glad I listened to it, overall, it made for some fun hours of escape from every day life.
Juliet Stevenson is a narrator whom I trust; I've listened to her read many classics. She is as good as ever reading Belgravia. She is a bit more emotive at various times than is usual for her, but I thought she did her usual excellent job.