(Audio)Book Review | Little Women
Book summary: Here are talented tomboy and author-to-be Jo, tragically frail Beth, beautiful Meg, and romantic, spoiled Amy, united in their devotion to each other and their struggles to survive in New England during the Civil War. (Goodreads)
I have never read Little Women, and neither had I seen any adaptation of it until watching Greta Gerwig's excellent movie just before Christmas last year. Technically, I have still never read the book at all, but I have now 'experienced' every word of it thanks to the audio book version and I have to say that I do prefer the movie more.
While I did enjoy the book, it does feel very much of its time as you'd expect and a little unfulfilling as a result. While it does present differing views on womanhood which may have been daring for the time of publication, or for actual little women reading, it ends with marriage and children and family as the ultimate end goal for women regardless of how unconventional the path to that ending may be.
The movie doesn't actually differ too much, but does provide Jo with something greater - the publication of her book. Her life has more meaning ultimately than being 'just' a wife or mother, but a person in her own right - which, considering America didn't allow women to vote until 1919 and the UK until 1928 - feels like a much more positive role model than the book version.
Leaving the movie aside, the book does have the advantage of allowing the reader to spend more time with the March sisters and getting to know them better. There are some scenes or sequences that do feel a little extraneous when reading them, and did occasionally have me wondering what the point of them was, but they were still enjoyable enough to not detract from the story.
Getting to spend more time with the characters did change how I viewed the women compared to the film version, with Beth becoming my favourite - although I still enjoyed Amy in the book almost as much as I did Florence Pugh's portrayal. Getting to know Beth made her ending far more emotional than the movie, which really couldn't give her enough time despite how well she too was depicted.
The performance from Anthea Ayache as narrator is good too, with subtle differences between the girls proving enough to give each of the March sisters a unique voice of their own. Ayache has a very pleasant voice and never rushes or goes too slow, only being let down by the poor quality control of the production itself.
I'll admit that I went for one of the cheaper editions of the Little Women audio book, thanks to there being so many to choose from - some quite expensive too - but there are certain elements that are just not good enough. The sound levels are different for practically every chapter, forcing me to adjust the volume regularly, only getting worse when it happened occasionally during a chapter.
Then there's some poor editing at the end, which I feel was because the production may have been in a rush to finish the recording. As I said, Anthea Ayache's performance is good, but there are a few moments when she slips up and has to repeat herself. I don't believe this is a fault of hers as I'd fully expect there to be plenty of slips in a 17-hour performance.
The fault lies with whoever didn't edit out these problems, especially as they only happen a handful of times towards the end of the book and leave a lesser impression of the audio book as a whole as a result. It's bizarre to think that nobody checked this and thought about simply editing out these errors as they must have done for the rest of the book, but I suppose you get what you pay for.
I don't want to end on a negative note, as the production issues are the only real problem even if the differing sound levels are an annoyance throughout. The story is an absolute pleasure, the characters so enjoyable to spend time with and - dated ending aside - it's a shame that it had to end. I absolutely recommend Little Women very highly, although I would also suggest going for a more expensive edition with better production values.
Little Women is a great book that really pulls you into the world of the March girls, although there is a (very) little fluff that feels like it could be cut and thankfully was for the recent movie adaptation. Unfortunately, the audio book version I listened too was marred by poor sound levels and some poor editing of an otherwise fine performance from Anthea Ayache.