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The Mapp and Lucia series by EF Benson comprises some of the most silly, charming, and utterly delightful novels in the English language. It's hard to know why they're so appealing. The characters are venal, unimaginably petty and spiteful, and their activities are mainly gossiping and plotting against each other for low stakes status. Still, Benson's authorial voice is shrewd and witty, and his awful, appalling fools have a warmth and underlying psychological truthfulness that raises all of this to the level of art. Almost a century after their first publication, they still feel fresh. Within a few paragraphs, you find yourself anticipating the nutty antics ahead with the same delight you might feel upon catching a mouthwatering whiff of the meal you're about to be served at someone's house.
The novels don't have plots, but incidents that unfold over several chapters. Think of them as episode in a very sophisticated sitcom.
Miriam Margolyes is so good at voices, you almost can't believe there's only one narrator. On the other hand, her astonishingly precise articulation is unmistakable throughout. And with all of that, she manages to make each character a real person.
Having read this novel on the page, it was a little alarming to hear the abridgment. Around half of the book was trimmed. The events are all here, but phrases and whole sentences have been clipped from every paragraph. Too bad, but the pruning was so artfully done, it never sounds as if you're missing anything. And if you plan to listen to the whole series, these versions might be a more realistic time commitment.
If you (or you and a friend) are going on a long drive, you can't find much better light (but not pointless) entertainment than this series.
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