There are three important questions to be asked before buying an audiobook: is the book itself worth reading; does the reader bring the book to life; and is the book abridged?
If we consider Great Expectations, we should have no problem with the first question: it is, I think, the greatest novel of the 19th century.
So, let’s move onto the second question. Does Hugh Laurie bring the book to life? Again we can say ‘yes’. At first, I thought he was a little too chirpy – those wonderful opening pages of the novel weren’t quite given the space they require – but I was quickly won over. His timing was great and he did a wonderful job with Dickens’ wide range of characters.
Which brings us to the sting in the tail; this audiobook is an abridged version, weighing in at little more than three (rather than 17) hours. Passage after glorious passage was cut and, in the end, that really matters. And I do really mean “in the end”. Chapters and descriptions were pared down throughout the book but where the cuts hit home was at the novel’s end when all the threads of the story came together. In this version it was simply too rushed. Losing concentration for a moment, I almost missed Miss Havisham’s immolation altogether, for example.
Nonetheless, Dickens was such a great author that his novel survives most hacks and cuts, which means that this version is still very much worth listening to. What’s more, it is a version that could be a wonderful introduction to the full-fat, unabridged original. Sometimes we need to be weaned onto the classics so that, having been weaned, we can enjoy delicacies whose taste we could never have anticipated.
I am now listening to Martin Jarvis’s reading of the whole novel. That’s seventeen and a half hours of pure, unadulterated pleasure.