By Michael Crummey
Narrated by John Lee
Ⓟ 2015, HighBridge Audio, A Division of Recorded Books
9 hours, 12 minutes
A seventy-year old man, Moses Sweetland, has lived most of his entire life on a Newfoundland island his forefathers founded (and named “Sweetland”) many generations ago. Faced with the prospect of resettlement by the government, he lives with his memories and ghosts. Sweetland is a bittersweet tale about a man trying to survive his past and outrace his present; but the future is coming for him whether he’s prepared for it or not…
Present-day scenes merge nicely with the flashbacks (and back again); but overall, the story is less than the sum of its parts. The novel is packed with scenes of tension, sadness, even comedy; but it fails to actually deliver tension, sadness or comedy – which leads to an emotional disconnect between the text and the story, the story and the listener. This may be in part due to the way the events are ordered within the novel – which kills the suspense; the author providing obvious hints which tips the hand as to the events about to unfold – which leeches any sort of emotional tension; and eccentricity being too self-aware to be actual humorous or even quirky. We, the Drowned (by Carsten Jensen) and The Solitude of Thomas Cave (by Georgina Harding; coincidentally narrated by John Lee as well) immediately come to mind in terms of the tie-in between land, sea, and man; and there are some stylistic points that the three books share as well which makes the novel feel familiar, but not particularly special.
John Lee’s narration was rather surprisingly brisk. Over the years, the careful, sometimes overly-enunciated performances have given way to this faster approach. This can prevent the listener from getting bogged down in lit-fic prose; but it can also get in the way of the listener savoring the language, or even understanding what a scene entails. The only other note, though perhaps small beer for many listeners, is that Lee is British-American narrator who was cast to read a POV1 story about a Canadian; but there was no attempt imitate the regional accent, or even pronounce “Newfoundland” as a Newfie would.
OTHER: I listened to a digital copy of Sweetland (by Michael Crummey; narrated by John Lee) from Scribd.com. I receive no monies, goods, or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.
Sweetland (by Michael Crummey; narrated by John Lee) is a finalist in the 2016 APA Audie Awards in the Classics & Literary Fiction category.
The Armchair Audies is an annual, unofficial event in which audiobook fans each pick a category from the APA Audies Finalists announcement, and listen to each of the 4-6 titles nominated. After listening, and reviewing each of the contenders, the listener(s) picks the winner for his/her selected category. This year, I’m listening to the finalists in the Classics & Literary Fiction category along with The Sleepless Reader. You can read her review of Sweetland on her blog, TheSleeplessrEader.com
EDIT: 11MAY2016 – Added line about The Sleepless Reader’s review; Added link