Audiobook Review: The Age of Innocence

I received this book for free from Audies in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Audiobook Review: The Age of InnocenceThe Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Narrator: Barbara Caruso
Length: 11 hrs, 50 mins
Published by Recorded Books on February 8, 2011
Genres: Classics, Romance
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audies
Goodreads
three-stars

Newland Archer is a young lawyer, a member of New York’s high society, and engaged to be married to May Welland. Countess Ellen Olenska is May’s cousin, and wants a divorce from the Polish nobleman she married. Intelligent and beautiful, she comes back to New York where she tries to fit into the high society life she had before her marriage. Her family and former friends, however, are shocked by the idea of divorce within their social circle, and she finds herself snubbed by her own class. Ellen and Newland fall in love and must choose between passion and conventions.

Story:
I came into this story with a lot of expectations. Basically, I expected it to be about the amorous affair between Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska, his wife’s cousin. While it was about their love, it turned out not to be about adultery. Oh yeah, spoiler, sorry. I figure most people already know what this is about because they’ve seen the movie.

Actually, the movie, which I have not actually seen, is what gave me the wrong idea. The most famous image from the film is of Archer (Daniel Day Lewis) passionately kissing Madame Olenska’s (Michelle Pfeiffer’s) neck. Thus the assumption that they were getting busy. Anyway, false. Turns out the book is more of a slow-moving look at how society puts constraints on people such that they cannot be with the person they love.

Madame Olenska married a Russian man and turned out to be fabulously unhappy despite her resulting wealth. She ran away to New York, where she fell for her cousin’s fiancee. Ellen hoped to obtain a divorce, but her family threatened her with shunning (not the religious kind, just the snooty kind) were she to do so. As a result, Archer could not be with her, even were he willing to leave May Welland and put up with the resulting scandal.

The ending of the book was a bit odd and unsatisfying, the latter of which was likely intended. In the last chapter, you suddenly zoom ahead to the future to see what became of Archer. At first, this didn’t make sense to me, but why became evident. Unfortunately, I thought the end was lame. Oh well.

All in all, I’m glad to have gotten through this book, as it was definitely on my list of things to read. I may even try reading the physical book at some point, since I already owned a copy before I was given the audiobook. At any rate, I would rate this far better than the only other Frome novel I have read, Ethan Frome. This may be her most optimistic famous novel, as I believe The House of Mirth is anything but mirthful.

Performance:
Barbara Caruso did a pretty stellar job. Her voice is perfectly snobby, well fit to the New York uppercrust society of the 1910s. I wonder, though, whether the people of that time would sound British, as Caruso does. Not exactly a criticism so much as a curious concern.

She did not particularly differentiate the voices of characters, beyond those of Archer (essentially her voice but a shade deeper) and Madame Olenska (she had a uniquely husky tone). The other ladies and men all sounded the same. Her voice for men was hilarious; they all sound like fat, wealthy, pompous, cigar-smoking, brandy drinking old white men. Of course, most of them probably were.

Although I have complained of other narrators for not doing voices for the characters (although that was compounded with another issue), I didn’t mind the way she did it. Her voice is full of inflection and made listening a pleasure, even if I couldn’t tell Mr. Lefferts from Mr. Letterblair without the text’s helpful clues in that direction (aka. Mr. Lefferts said).

My biggest complaint about this audiobook is that nowhere on the internet could I find a photo of the cover. For real. I don’t have a scanner, so I am using the image of the book version I have of The Age of Innocence. Also, Recorded Books should improve their website, because it is completely absurd not to have the latest cover up.

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