★ ★ ★
Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore, narrated by Jonathan Keeble | 1869 (Naxos unabridged audio edition 2010) | Naxos Audio Books | CD set $115
First published in 1869, Lorna Doone is the story of John Ridd, a farmer who finds love amid the religious and social turmoil of seventeenth-century England. He is just a boy when his father is slain by the Doones, a lawless clan inhabiting wild Exmoor on the border of Somerset and Devon. Seized by curiosity and a sense of adventure, he makes his way to the valley of the Doones, where he is discovered by the beautiful Lorna. In time their childish fantasies blossom into mature love — a bond that will inspire John to rescue his beloved from the ravages of a stormy winter, rekindling a conflict with his archrival, Carver Doone, that climaxes in heartrending violence.
This is the first audiobook I’ve listened to in a long time. A couple of years ago my dearly departed Ford Escape “ate” 8 discs of a library audiobook, which was expensive, and also my CD player didn’t work any more. We subscribe to SiriusXM so at least I still had lots of music and news shows to choose from. But then I was rear-ended on the highway and my vehicle was harshly taken from me in the prime of his life. I was stuck with a rental and terrestrial radio — a true nightmare.
But this rental had a particularly interesting feature: it could sync with my smartphone via Bluetooth and send phone calls or music to the car speakers. On the same day as the wreck, my library started offering a new streaming/downloadable media service called “hoopla” and I decided to try it out. I downloaded the app, signed in with my library card, found an audiobook title from my Classics Club list, and I was all set for my daily commute.
The library offered both the abridged and unabridged version, and I sat through the full 25 hour unabridged story. I have a feeling that no modern editor would have let some of these scenes and rambling scenery descriptions make it into the final publication, but I enjoyed listening to the rambling book in the way that I might enjoy listening to an oldster tell a rambling story about his childhood. (Yes, I do actually like that kind of thing.)
The narrator did a great job (as far as I can tell) of telling the story in the Exmoor accent. I say “as far as I can tell” because I can’t even tell the difference between a lot of non-American accents, and actually at first I thought the story might be set in Scotland because the accent sounded Scottish to me. (If you’re British or Scottish, I hope you can forgive my confusion.) Anyway, the accents really added to the atmosphere of the tale.
The only bad thing I have to say about the audiobook in particular is that sometimes the narrator’s accent was too good. I really couldn’t understand half of what the really “rustic” characters like John Fry or Betty Muxworthy were saying! Sure, the accents were important for the feel of the thing, but I’m sure I must have missed some interesting bits of dialogue.
My main complaint about the substance of the book is that women are talked about and treated in a particularly, well, Victorian way. They’re the weaker sex, not given to deep thought, prone to cry, not worth much if they aren’t pretty or good at cooking, and always in want of a strong man to take care of them. The female characters of this world are frankly just too flat and boring to be of much interest other than as objects for the male characters to lust after or fight over or get meals from.
At one point I remember thinking that a particularly spirited horse was a more interesting character than any of the girls or women, even the oh-so-important Lorna. I know this book was written in the 19th century and is set in the 1600’s and I do try to take that kind of thing into account when judging a book, but for this modern reader the treatment of women in this story was pretty pathetic.
All in all, I’m glad I read it (well, listened to it, but I think it still counts as reading), but I can’t say it’ll ever be a real favorite. I’m trying to get my hands on a copy of that Lorna Doone TV movie, which I fondly remember watching with my grandmother.
Publication information: Blackmore, R.D. Lorna Doone. Franklin, Tennessee: Naxos Audio Books, 2010. Streaming.
Source: Public library and Midwest Tape’s hoopla service.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.