Tuesday, June 22, 2010

March-an audiobook review

For the second day of Audiobook Week, I am supposed to write a review of an audiobook. As I mentioned yesterday, I don't really have a special format for reviews of audiobooks. To be honest I don't really have a set format for audiobooks in general. As I am reading more book blogs, I am beginning to wonder if I should. But that's the topic for another day's post.

It already happens that I was planning on reviewing this book this week, and I listened to it as an audiobook, so bonus! It also keeps with the Louisa May Alcott theme I started.

March is an extension of the Little Women story by author, Geraldine Brooks. She follows the father, Robin March through his trials as an Army Chaplain in the Civil War. Through a series of flashbacks, she also reinvents some of the back story of the March family. She writes of how he and Marmee met, how he lost his fortune, and how he became a chaplain. Sections are introduced from real quotations from Alcott's book, and certain familiar scenes are retold and reinterpreted from the father's perspective. Characters from the Alcott's real lives (such as Emerson and Thoreau) were present in the book as well. After reading Alcott's biography, I was easily able to pick up on parallels. Brooks has Mr. March meet his future wife in much the same way that Bronson and Abby Alcott met. And Mr. March spent time in his youth as a peddler in the South, just as Bronson did in real life.

The majority of the book is told in first person from Mr. March's perspective. At one point it switches to Marmee's voice when she goes to take care of him in the army hospital, but then it finishes from his perspective again. At first the switch was jarring, but it made for some very interesting plot developments.

It was narrated by a man, which was fitting since most of it was told from Mr. March's perspective, but it kind of made me forget at times that it was written by a woman. The narration was very fitting though, and pulled me right along with the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. It's much darker than Little Women, and clearly more for an adult audience. Brooks graphically shows the consequences of horrors such as war and slavery. For me, it ended on a very unsettling note, and sort of changed the way I thought of Mr. March, and the March family in general.

This reaction made me wonder about the concept of taking someone else's characters and further developing them. There was recently a case with J.D. Salinger when someone tried to publish a sequel to Catcher in the Rye. Salinger sued and successful held up publication. Salinger said it was a ripoff. I believe the issue was still unresolved at the time of his death. So I'm unsure of my opinion here. There are other examples of books with unauthorized sequels, such as Gone With the Wind and Pride and Prejudice. In someways it seems not quite right.

Is it stealing a character, or a clever retelling? At what point does a story become part of a culture's literary fabric, and can be retold freely? Is there a difference between retelling a story from another perspective and writing a sequel where the original left off?

Have you ever read a book that used another author's story or characters? What did you think? Does it count? Do you believe that that is what really happened to those characters? Or can only the creator determine its character's fate? I'm still very undecided...


Jen - Devourer of Books said...

I occasionally have a strange reactions when the author and narrator's genders don't match.

Katie said...

As long as it's public domain, I don't think sequels and re-tellings are illegal. I don't view them as "fact", more just one's thoughts and interpretations. My worst reaction to a retelling is actually the movie Scarlett. At one point Scarlett is almost hanged/hung (English Major Fail) for murder which so didn't happen in the book (even though that wasn't even the original story) and the insinuation that a dirty noose would ever grace my beloved Scarlett's neck sent me into fits. Also annoyed by writers who seem to just want to sex-up Jane Austen. It's plenty sexy without the technical sex scenes. ;)

Caitlin said...

Jen- It's kind of weird, right? But it made sense with the character-I just kept forgetting the author was a woman. Thanks for stopping by!

McB-Public domain is a good point. Is the movie Scarlett billed as a movie version of GWTW or is it supposed to be its own story with the same characters? Is Scarlett a book too? Have you read many of the Jane Austen extra books?

Katie said...

Scarlett is a proposed sequel to GWTW originally in novel form but later turned into (a nightmare of) a movie.

I have only read/seen a couple of the zillions of Jane Austen adaptions. They're generally alright. Actually, I've probably read/seen more modern adaptions that I've read proposed sequels. I like the adaptions better personally because they're not getting too close to the original characters, if that makes sense. It's one thing for Bridget Jones to love P&P and have an embarrassment of a mother and despise a Mark Darcy, but another more "touchy subject" when people start to conjecture about Darcy and Elizabeth as parents, like in Mr. Darcy's Daughters. (I actually liked that book okay, but nothing remarkable.)