Monday, April 23, 2018

Book Review: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth, narrated by Nicola Barber (audio)

I forget that these books get into much, much more personal detail about the lives of the people in the neighborhood, and much less into the lives of the nuns and nurses, then the TV show. But I like them just the same. While I do prefer to get to know the recurring characters better than non-recurring ones, I do learn more about the era and the lives of the poor then, by Ms. Worth's deep dives into the backstories of people who grew up in the workhouses and who fought in WWII and that sort of thing, than if I just learned about Jenny and Trixie and Sister Evangelina. For me the one discordant note is how Sister Julienne is portrayed as more flustered, less in control, less impressive in the book than in the TV show. I suppose she's also more "real" in the book, but I really admire her on the show and think she's someone to emulate in times of trouble or difficulty, which in the book she doesn't handle quite as elegantly.

Once again, all of the stories in this book were made into episodes in the first couple of seasons of the TV show and I remembered them vividly. Some took an awful lot of cutting as they must have been 100 pages in the book to boil down to a 1-hour episode. It is good to get the extra detail, and it's frightening to realize that these Dickensian stories are a heck of a lot more recent than Dickens! And it's also important to remember that. It wasn't that long ago, and if we forget how the poor were treated, it's easy to start to regress.

Ms. Barber is a delight as a narrator. There are loads of accents including Cockney and to my American ear, she nailed them all, and really added a ton of flavor and immersion in the atmosphere to the books that's easy to lose in print when you start reading with your own American accent, or can even be hard to understand, if reading phonetically reproduced slang and thick accents. Her men's voices are really impressive--a couple of times I did a double-take and wondered if they hadn't done a switch-up and had a man briefly read a few lines. Her Trixie sounds exactly like the actress in the TV show, and she herself doesn't sound far off from the actress playing Jenny.

Like the show, the book is relaxing and calming, and yet it talks about distressing times during which the British stiff upper lip came very much in handy. But it is not an anxiety-producing book despite that. And I learned a lot, almost like a sociology text. Will listen to book 3 very soon.

I listened to this audiobook via CloudLibrary via my local library.

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