Audiobook Review: A Tale of Two Cities

Audiobook Review: A Tale of Two CitiesA Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Narrator: Simon Prebble
Length: 14 hrs, 43 mins
Published by Blackstone Audio on March 23, 2011
Genres: Classics
Format: Audiobook
Source: Gifted

Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities is a sprawling tale of London and revolutionary Paris with a complex plot portraying the results of terror and treason, love and supreme sacrifice.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."—opening line of A Tale of Two Cities

It was the time of the French Revolution, a time of great change and great danger. It was a time when injustice was met by a lust for vengeance, and rarely was a distinction made between the innocent and the guilty. Against this tumultuous historical backdrop, Dickens' dramatic story of adventure and courage unfolds.

Unjustly imprisoned for eighteen years in the Bastille, Dr. Alexandre Manette is reunited with his daughter, the gentle Lucie Manette, and safely transported from France to England. It would seem that they could now take up the threads of their lives in peace. As fate would have it, however, the two are summoned to the Old Bailey to testify against a young Frenchman, Charles Darnay, falsely accused of treason. Strangely enough, Darnay bears an uncanny resemblance to another man in the courtroom: Sydney Carton, a dissolute barrister. It is a coincidence that saves Darnay from certain doom more than once, as the two men's fates become intertwined with that of the Revolution.

And there is Madame Defarge, a female revolutionary who has an implacable grudge against the aristocratic Evrémonde dynasty and who knits as she watches the beheadings.

The storming of the Bastille, the death carts with their doomed human cargo, the swift drop of the blade of La Guillotine—this is the French Revolution that Charles Dickens vividly captures. Brilliantly plotted, the novel is rich in drama, romance, and heroics that culminate in a daring prison escape in the shadow of the guillotine.

Okay, so, to be entirely affair, I confess that, for reasons I will go into greater detail about later, I did not manage to pay too much attention to this audiobook. The result of which is that I have only a vague idea of what happened. I mean, I think I have the overarching plot pretty firm in my mind, but if there were subtle beauties here, they were lost to me.

From what I did gather, A Tale of Two Citiesis never going to be a favorite Dickens novel for me. Really, it was going to be either his best, most original work or his least good, failed attempt at novelty. His bread and butter was writing about those suffering in England, the poverty, the terrible schools, the diseases, the hypocrisy. Here, he is tackling the French Revolution, which is something rather different.

My biggest problem, as with so many of the books I do not like, is that I did not connect with any of the characters. The narrative does not really focus on anyone in particular. The omniscient narrator is definitely high above everyone looking down, and, to me, no one looks all that interesting. The bad guys, the good guys…all of them struck me as really blah.

Sydney Carton is the one I think I’m supposed to sympathize or empathize with. I mean, what could be more romantic than giving up your life so that the woman you love can be happy. Umm, how about you both loving each other and getting to be together? Is that just me? I have never thought tragic, doomed, unrequited, etc. romances were romantic. Romeo and Juliet does not thrill me either. And, really, the reason Sydney doesn’t get the girl is that he’s kind of an ass. Just sayin’. Also, I really don’t get his noble sacrifice. In the real world, would he ever have been able to swap himself in for the guillotine? Because I doubt it.

From my imperfect trip through this novel, I would recommend going back and watching the Wishbone episode instead of reading it, but, again, I may be wrong.

Now, you may be wondering how on earth I spent over 14 hours of my life listening to a novel and end up having very little idea of most of what happened within that book. Well, here’s how. Simon Prebble has narrated a lot of things, which must mean a lot of people think he’s a really great narrator. I do not however.

Prebble seems to have just the wrong voice for me. I don’t know if I’m unique in this or not, but I literally cannot pay attention to his voice. Part of the joy of audiobooks is that you can read and do other things (laundry, your dishes, pet the cat, rake the lawn, grocery shopping, drive, etc.). I have done so with all of the ones I have listened to. With this one, though, I could not pay attention. Desperate, I tried reading along with the audiobook. Even then, it took every bit of brain power for me to focus on this man.

You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not. Something about Prebble’s voice made me tune out, and tuning back in was pretty much impossible. This was just the strangest and most unfortunate experience. There are narrators I’ve hated more, but I missed nothing. How is that possible?

2 responses to “Audiobook Review: A Tale of Two Cities”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I find it hard to accept that your inability to attend to this book has anything to do with Mr. Prebble’s wonderful performance. If it had, you would have turned it off and read the book. It is a classic for a reason: it is enduringly one of the finest works in the English language. And yes, Mr. Prebble is well thought of. He has narrated over 400 audiobooks, from all genre, has an Audie Award, 15 Audie finalists, was named Narrator of the Year by Publisher’s weekly, and was Booklist’s Voice of choice, among other honors. We all have our individual tastes but I do like both the book and the narration. I bought it and will hear it many times over.


  2. Christina says:

    I suspect that it may have something to do with my particular auditory response to his voice, or the way his voice is for this particular book, as sometimes narrators vary the way they speak for different books. For example, I loathed Bronson Pinchot’s narration on one book and enjoyed it on two others, and he sounded almost entirely different in all three.

    For me, this was a tough listen. I had my own reasons for finishing the audiobook rather than obtaining a print copy, namely that I was asked to do so.

    I listened to this audiobook in the same way I listened to all of the others, which is that, for the most part, I multitasked. I had trouble with this one where I did not with pretty much any other I have listened to.

    However, I am not setting out to demonize Mr. Prebble; I’m glad other people get great joy out of his work. It would be sad if everyone had the same reaction to him.

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