Macbeth: A Novel Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
Macbeth: A Novel brings the intricacy and grit of the historical thriller to Shakespeare’s tale of political intrigue, treachery, and murder. In this full-length novel written exclusively for audio, authors A. J. Hartley and David Hewson rethink literature’s most infamous married couple, grounding them in a medieval Scotland whose military and political upheavals are as stark and dramatic as the landscape on which they are played.
Macbeth is a war hero and a patriot, doing everything in his power to hold together Duncan’s crumbling kingdom, which is beset by sedition from within and with threats from overseas. But when Duncan, contrary to ancient Scottish tradition, turns to building a family dynasty instead of rewarding those who have borne the brunt of the fighting, Macbeth and his powerful wife, Skena, make plans of their own, plans designed to hold both the nation and their strained relationship together. Sinister figures who claim supernatural knowledge spur them on, but the terrible outcome is as much about accident and failure as it is malevolence. Soon Macbeth and his wife find themselves preeminent in all the land, but struggling to hold themselves and their country together as former friends turn into bitter and deadly enemies.
This is Macbeth as you have not heard it before: fresh, edgy, and vital. It is a story of valor in battle, whispering in shadows, witchcraft in the hollows of an ancient landscape, and the desperate struggle of flawed people to do what they think is right.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
A. J. Hartley, a professor of Shakespeare at the Univ. of North Carolina-Charlotte, is the author of the “Will Hawthorne” fantasy series as well as several thrillers.
David Hewson is the best-selling author of 16 novels, including the Rome-based “Nic Costa” crime series.
ABOUT THE NARRATOR
Alan Cumming stars in CBS's The Good Wife, for which he received an Emmy nomination, and is the host of PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery. He was honored with the 2011 Audie Award for Best Male Narrator.
The Irish folk song “She Moved Through the Fair” is performed by Heather O'Neil of the Irish Repertory Theater.
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|Listening Length||9 hours and 43 minutes|
|Author||A. J. Hartley, David Hewson|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||June 28, 2011|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #25,496 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#275 in Historical Mysteries (Audible Books & Originals)
#1,239 in Historical Thrillers (Books)
#1,360 in Literary Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
Top reviews from the United States
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Alan Cumming gives an impressive audio performance. At first, I was a little concerned about his accent, as he speaks with a very thick Scottish accent. However, after a very short adjustment period it added to the atmosphere and was perfectly understandable. He has an impressive array of authentic voices, excellent vocal inflections, and skillful adjustments to his reading tempo.
Let me preface this with the fact that I love the Macbeth story. I always have, since I was exposed to a young reader's adaptation of the original play when I was 7.
It is, to my mind, the definitive classic tragedy, showing what happens when good people make a long series of bad decisions for what they consider the greater good.
As such, I was really excited to dig into this.
The book opens with a forward from one of the authors that I felt, honestly, was unnecessary. Setting the stage of time and place is all it really did, and that was presented clearly in the opening chapters.
Now, the story itself opens (predictably) with a scene of battle that quite accurately paints the scene of Scottish culture and politics for the period. It was artfully done.
In short order we get into the meat of the story with the meeting with the three witches and things get under way.
Now, I very much appreciate the additional character development that turns many of these characters into real people rather than just set dressings.
In terms of character development, there is one place where I feel it falls down. That is the interim between Macbeth being a staunch supporter of Duncan and becoming the vehicle of the King's assassination.
By his own words, Macbeth owes his loyalty to the man and would never countenance even speaking of betraying him. After a brief cut to show what a horrible leader Duncan is, we suddenly see Macbeth now changing his mind with almost no explanation as to what, in his own mind, changed.
I really enjoyed the characterization of Lady Macbeth. She really comes to life here, particularly in the scenes showing her grief over her own lost child and inability to conceive anew.
Now, in terms of plotting and prose, I do have a couple of frustrations.
There is a lot of broad exposition to tell us what is happening around the county and how various characters feel about it, but we're given almost no reason to care as there's very little visceral connection to the events and how they're affecting people.
Now, I know a lot of people might expect or even enjoy this sort of prose, but I'm not one of them. The language and flow of sentences is very much akin to reading Shakespeare, to the point that the prose is so lyrical as to be almost purple.
The book has a huge focus on trying to make the prose beautiful and I feel it negatively affects the story because of it.
Much of the dialogue is so lyrical that I could easily see it being sung rather than spoken.
Again, none of this is bad if that's the sort of thing you enjoy. I, however, do not. That kind of flowery language makes it difficult for me to pay attention and follow the story.
Now, anyone who knows anything about the Macbeth story knows how this book ends. More or less.
Even so, the way it all came together was still fun to read and satisfying in its conclusion.
I would definitely recommend this book to those looking for beautiful writing and lyrical dialogue, especially if those things are more important to you than great characters or an engaging story.
The book is presented (at least in Kindle format) as a single long chapter. It does not adhere to Shakespeare's act/scene breakdowns, and adds many, many embellishments to the original "Scottish play". The first moments of the book do follow Act I, scene i, with the witches on their way to intercept Macbeth, but these moments are drowned in excessive verbiage, in a way that is a plodding chore to read, rather than a pleasant trip through the less-used corners of the English language.
Things do pick up once the story begins in earnest. The authors do explain in the back of the book why and how they deviated from Shakespeare. Much is added here -- backstory to Macbeth and Banquo's defeat of the rebellious thane MacDonwald and the invading Norwegian king Sueno. Lady Macbeth is given a first name and a tragic backstory. The witches are made far more central to the plot and are given much more agency, although the explanation of who they actually are (were) may be a bit much. Critically, the authors revert back to the pre-Shakespearean notion of Duncan as a not-so-great king, in order to lend some sympathy to the Macbeths.
The book has fun tying in the real history of Macbeth (who died in 1057, but whose actual reign was far better than what Shakespeare portrayed) with the actual history and geography of the 11th century British isles, with a brief foreshadowing of 1066. The authors get to tell their own story, rather than slavishly translating Shakespeare's text into modern English. They don't always succeed -- Lady Macbeth here delivers her "unsex me" speech on the castle ramparts, screaming into the wind, and that's just not a good image.
I did go back and reread the original play after finishing the novel. I am no English professor when it comes to reading and understanding Shakespeare. But, remembering that all female roles in Shakespeare's day were played by male actors, it's almost a meta, fourth-wall joke to the audience, when Banquo points that the witches look like women but have beards. Which means that, on Shakespeare's stage, the witches certainly would not have looked anything like the authors have imagined here. Just blokes in dresses who didn't even need to shave for their parts.
Come to find out, Alan Cummings narrated the audiobook for this. Any complaint I have about reading the book in print would easily be dispelled by listening to Cummings tell the story instead. Perhaps you might wanna try to experience "Macbeth: A Novel" that way first.
One of the novel's authors is a Shakespearian scholar. The depth of his historical knowledge of Scotland, England and Shakespeare is apparent in the text.
Even though I have seen or read Shakespeare's original play many time and seen many versions on stage, I still found MacBeth: A Novel to be a page turner! Superb!
Top reviews from other countries
I have only two gripes. Firstly, Malcolm talks about being held in the Tower in London. I believe the Tower was constructed after the Conquest. However, there may have been a previous fortress on the site. The other problem is Lady Macbeth's name. She was a real person and I understood she is usually known as Gruoch. I don't know why the authors changed that.
But I am willing to let these go, as I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The weird sisters are particularly well served. It is always a dramatic problem, in modern times, to portray them, in a less superstitious age. However, here they are genuinely fearsome and strange, and their initial weaving of temptation for Macbeth and Banquo is horrendous, disgusting and creepy.
Initially, there is more understanding given to both to Macbeth and to the Lady (given a Christian name, Skena, here). Saintly Duncan and his sons both become much more duplicitous figures, and Macbeth is therefore accorded more sympathy.
However, as events unfurl, and where the play ratchets up event upon event, piling on the horror to dramatic effect, the novel begins to falter and the popping of Shakespeare's dialogue into the characters' mouths works less and less well, becoming more and more like an act of clever pastiche. The dark, savage and bloody end of the Macbeths feels drawn out and overegged, completely lacking the spare horror of the play.
I found the historical afterword much more interesting. The real Macbeth was much maligned, and by all accounts ruled Scotland rather well for some years. However, the play was written after James 1st had become king. And reputedly his line was descended from Banquo. So to some extent Shakespeare was pragmatically wrapping his play in spin, for a Stuart monarch, in the same way as Richard III was a spin favourable to a Tudor monarch.
In the end I'm afraid I was left thinking 'why?' This might have been better if it had not tried to so closely weave the play itself, but had taken the basic story and not used any of Shakespeare's words at all, which might have avoided the reader inevitably making comparisons between the play and the novel.
Thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would highly recommend
Well worth the read.
A notice to all parents! If you believe in educating your kids, read the book yourself, then give it to your kids and make sure they read it!!!!