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Have you listened to any of Mikael Naramore’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
No! Mikael Naramore is an audiobook narrator, voice actor, and songwriter musician. He does a credible southern accent although I did not buy his Pennsylvania accent of Drew (a main character). It was a bit too generic northern Yankee accent for my ear. He makes up for this by having a good sense of lyrical meter of the poetic interludes. He has a wide range of tonality and captured the whispered undertone required for some scenes. There is a marked shift in formal tone when Ian is speaking to Sarge then when he is speaking to his fellow soldiers. As his commander Ian owes Sarge respect, however, he is also kin so the formality is a bit over the top; more Gown-With-the-Wind formal then necessary to convey respect to my ear. One can see why he has 63 Audible books to his credit.
Any additional comments?
The time is March and early April 1865. The action runs down the Shenandoah Valley from Rockfish Gap to Purgatory Mountain, Virginia. This book is written on 78 short chapters. The approach is suited to the high action book that begins in the middle of a battle with a retreat through Rockfish Gap. The charter development occurs over a lot of little scenes like a movie does. In chapter two the author uses the literary device of letters from 1861 and 1862 to fill in necessary family background in the chief protagonist past. The protagonists are two closeted gays. The first protagonist is Ian Campbell. Ian is in a small southern force headed by his uncle Erastus nick-named Sarge. Sarge commands a group of Rouge Raiders now numbering 23 under General Jubal Early commanding the larger Army of the Valley District. They are light forces that do hit and run to harassing the larger Union forces. The main driver of the books action is the antagonist Sarge. He is a man who has lost his wife and property to the slash and burn tactics of the North and takes his gleeful pleasure in abusing a single prisoner until they give no more sport; then he kills them. It is almost as if he is using the prisoner as a scapegoat to vent his revenge and any guilt feelings over not being able to protect his wife and land. We learn that he has done this multiple times. He is the embodiment of a sadistic sociopath with his own moral code. His backstabbing tattletale henchman, George, spies of Ian and is driven by envy, viciousness, and Bible thumping hypocrisy. He too has lost everything to the burning Yanks and has that common bond of hatred with Sarge on that score.
The second protagonist is his latest victim prisoner, Drew Conrad. When not being treated savagely by Sarge or abused by the camp, he is left under guard with his nephew Ian. Sarge’s stated goal is to toughen Ian up; to make his as uncaringly and vicious as is he and George toward Yanks. Sarge regards Ian as soft. As a soldier in fighting Ian is top notch but he is also bookish, thoughtful, principled, and he has a secret. He longs to control and dominate men bigger than himself and explore his attraction to his ideal men mountain image. Drew has also had feelings for men he does not understand and finds his life depends completely on this gentle Rebel who feeds him, dresses his wounds, while keeping him firmly bound and awaiting the next sadistic beating by Sarge. One might label what develops between the two protagonists as a fine example of Stockholm syndrome. The bindings Ian places on Drew become symbols of Ian’s protection, affection, and his hope for salvation and redemption for his guilt feelings over waging scorched earth war against civilians before his capture. The pain inflicted by Sarge becomes his penance for his war sin. The two farm boy protagonists engage in a dramatic dance of layered revealing of inner feelings of guilt and attraction that glides along a honed knife edge leading toward rejection or salvation. The plot line developing of this theme is exquisite. It is rich, textured, layered, complex, and includes imagery suitable to the hardship, privations, colors, tastes, and smells of a Rebel unit on the move. It is not until the end that we know whether Drew is doing what he needs to do to survive or whether his stated feelings for Ian are a true expression of bonded secret love.
I mentioned above that Ian is bookish. One of the more endearing qualities of this book is its allusion to historic and literary figures; the Iliad’s lovers Achilles & Patroclus, the poetry of Walt Whitman, some Shakespeare, and some erotic Biblical passages are notable. Ian has a sense of ethics and fair play his uncle is totally lacking. At points in the book Drew’s suffering is compared to the suffering of Christ. It adds an ennobling Saintly quality to Drew’s character and provides a lens to view his helpless predicament.
For those not versed in BD/SM nomenclature the characters offer illustrated examples of the differences in the respective roles of the dominator and the submissive. It also alludes to some underlying principals and duties that the dominator and submissive have for one another in order to indulge their bondage interests safely. Sarge and George represent sadism distilled to its essence in its unprincipled and unlimited form. Both Ian and Drew suffer, Drew physically but Ian suffers mentally over his inability to protect the object of his desire.
The book ends with the two protagonists triumph over the situation the antagonists place them in. No spoiler here; you will have to read/listen to the book to find out how this happens. However, it leaves the future of the two protagonists open which lead to the author’s second book “Salvation” published in 2014 and not currently available on Audible books.
Reviewer note: I love historical novels that have a ring of authenticity to them. The best of this genre are the novels of Mary Renault set in pre-Christian Greece. The richness and detail of author Mann’s book, “Purgatory” come very close to her mark of excellence; although the adult material is far more graphic then Ms. Renault’s time period would have allow. I give kudos to Mann’s scholarly mastery of the geographical area and the historical time period. Additional Historical Note: After the Battle of Waynesboro on March 2, 1865, and retreat through Rockfish Gap, General Robert E Lee removed General Early of his command of the Valley Army soon after the battle. The Valley Army itself were destroyed, captured, or scattered during the Battle of Waynesboro. This left Sarge a free agent without color of Confederate authority although he appears to have been ignorant of Early’s removal. General Lee surrendered to General US Grant on April 9, 1865, six days later, April 15, 1865 President Lincoln was dead by assassination. Author Mann is careful not to run afoul of this timeline. The book mentions early April green but is not specific as to the exact date.
Sympathetic exploration BD/SM imagery is not going to appeal to everyone’s taste. Placing the exploration 150 years in the past make it a bit safer to explore. The book is not for the faint-of-heart, or those who have pre-judged the topic, and it helps if one is at least bi-curious. The imagery is down and dirty interspersed with moments of the sweet, tender, and gentle exchange. If you are a consumer with the aforementioned qualities, I recommend this audiobook to you. If not, go to the less graphically explicit Mary Renault books.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about Purgatory?
I can't add anything to previous reviews about the quality of the story itself, so I won't even try. Suffice it to say I agree with it all. I'll keep my review to the quality of the narrator. Not only does he get the accents dead right, but I could hear a distinct difference between the voices of the southern characters. There are parts where Naramore is voicing Drew, who has a gag in his mouth, and I swear he can express more emotion through muffled grunts than most people can with their clear voices. (I can't help but wonder if Naramore actually put a gag in his own mouth in the recording studio.) An especially memorable scene is where Ian is tending to Drew after a particularly cruel session of torture, and Drew has lost his short-term memory as a result. I closed my eyes listening to it and could imagine myself in Ian's place, Drew's head in my lap as he described how he felt, his voice slurred and scared.
Part of the quality of the narration is the quality of the writing. This is a book I downloaded without reading it first, and although physical books can easily move me emotionally and drag me bodily into the story through print, it is rare that a narrator can do so without my having read the book first. Mann is definitely an excellent writer, but without an equally excellent narrator the story would definitely lose something just being listened to.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?
If the story had led itself forward instead of everything seemingly focused on a camp where a prisoner is, after a wee while, the center of an S&M scenario that grows like any penny dreadful novel.
Has Purgatory put you off other books in this genre?
It has not put me off. It should have been a bit more obvious in the blurb how we were to expect the extreme descriptive narrative.
Any additional comments?
If you are liking the S&M scene with humiliation dressed as war, then go for it. I want to give it back, but that is not possible. No depth or substance for me.