Audiobook Review: Frances and Bernard

13429680Thank you very much to AudioGo and Audiobook JukeBox for allowing us the listening pleasure of Frances and Bernard. This was a story that intrigued me to no end when I first heard of it. It was also something I posted about earlier, based upon the very nifty idea publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt did surrounding the release of the book. I posted my lament about the long lost era of the love letter and/or letters. HMH created a way to share postcards to your loved ones on Facebook, and  also ran a contest to win your own personalized set of stationary. The National Post also wrote this article, ” Death of the Love Letter” also lamenting the loss of the love letter and that it is being replaced with frivolous texts and emails.

The premise of Frances and Bernard is a wonderful one and is done entirely in epistolary format. It was wonderful. Carlene Bauer pleasantly imagines an entire relationship between Frances and Bernard as developed through their correspondence over a number of years. The reader is taken on this curiously delightful journey through the birth of their relationship, all the way to its death and to the years beyond when the power, hold and passion their relationship held on each of them slowly diminishes.

I had the express pleasure of this story being told to me through audio, and it was definitely the right story to come along at just the right time. Since I was just coming away from the deeply disturbing (Daddy Love) and intense (The Absolutist) subject matter of my two previous listens,  this was definitely a delight for the soul. And again, I must tell you, listening to Frances and Bernard made it all that much better. Their pain, sorrow, their joy, tears, their frustration and anger all composed in their letters over time, came through perfectly by the two narrators, Angela Brazil and Stephen R. Thorne. Kudos to these two! It definitely enhanced the experience and made the book all the more enjoyable.

When Frances would write while she was upset, bitter, scared, crying, or delighted, it was read that way. It was read complete with the tears in her voice, or the frustration and anger she was feeling to the joy and delight she would share with Bernard or her best friend Claire. When Bernard was overcome during one of his multiple manic episodes, and exhausted and tired, or filled with passion, and when his writing would be a fast jumble of words and emotion, it was read that way. Wonderful. It brought to life these wonderfully written and descriptive letters so, so much greater than by just reading alone. If an advertisement is needed to extol the greatness of audiobooks, Frances and Bernard could easily be one used to entice beginners!

However, please note that if you are a staunch non-believer, and/or are sensitive to any discussion of God, faith, the Catholic church and religion, Frances and Bernard may not appeal to you. These subjects comprised the majority of their correspondence to one another as both were devout Catholics. They discussed, debated, glorfied and spoke often of their beliefs and faith in almost every single one of their letters.

From Goodreads:In the summer of 1957, Frances and Bernard meet at an artists’ colony. She finds him faintly ridiculous, but talented. He sees her as aloof, but intriguing. Afterward, he writes her a letter. Soon they are immersed in the kind of fast, deep friendship that can take over—and change the course of—our lives.

From points afar, they find their way to New York and, for a few whirling years, each other. The city is a wonderland for young people with dreams: cramped West Village kitchens, rowdy cocktail parties stocked with the sharp-witted and glamorous, taxis that can take you anywhere at all, long talks along the Hudson River as the lights of the Empire State Building blink on above.

Inspired by the lives of Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell, Frances and Bernard imagines, through new characters with charms entirely their own, what else might have happened. It explores the limits of faith, passion, sanity, what it means to be a true friend, and the nature of acceptable sacrifice. In the grandness of the fall, can we love another person so completely that we lose ourselves? How much should we give up for those we love? How do we honor the gifts our loved ones bring and still keep true to our dreams?

In witness to all the wonder of kindred spirits and bittersweet romance, Frances and Bernard is a tribute to the power of friendship and the people who help us discover who we are.

Frances and Bernard was a delight to listen to and again, another book I encourage you to try in audio. Without the inflection and emotion presented in these letters and as narrated by Brazil and Thorne, I honestly feel all the beauty of the wonderfully descriptive writing coming from a poet (Bernard)  and a writer (Frances) would be lost and not enjoyed nearly as it should. 4 stars.

Review: Faith by Jennifer Haigh

Please read this book. 

It is wonderful and truly a heartbreaking read. What I loved most was the very different perspective taken, as it was a perspective/outlook not usually taken on this topic.   

I’m also very shocked it did not receive “bigger play” or that it wasn’t mentioned on so many Top 2011 Lists…had I read this in 2011 it would have surely gone to the top of my list. It certainly is the best book I’ve read yet this year.

Your heart will break a great number of times. It will break wide open for Father Arthur Breen. Over and over again.

Unfortunately, Arthur Breen chose a profession now considered to be filled with shame and disgust. He followed his life-long love and became a priest, albeit at the wrong time, in the wrong place.

“Art is guilty, automatically, just because he’s a priest?”

“The Boston Archdiocese has secretly settled sexual molestation cases involving at least seventy priests.”

I simply loved the perspective, or the “side” taken in this book. And the person telling this story is simply wonderful. Sheila is Fr. Breen’s younger sister. His fiercely defensive sister. She is a wonderful story teller, taking her time and letting the story unfold quietly and tenderly. She has profound love and respect for her brother, the priest.

“You are my brother Art. Whatever you did or didn’t do, I will always love you. All that I might have said and didn’t.

Thrown in to the same lot and painted with the same brush, Fr. Breen finds himself in the centre of the scandal(s) surrounding the Catholic Church and its priests. Is he innocent? Is he guilty? Did he do those shameful things to that young boy? Sheila brings us through the scandal, back to his childhood, to the story of his family, and to the punishment he must endure.

“Meeting a woman, meeting a man. God forbid, meeting a child. I’m a priest, my dear. In the current climate, any human interaction is suspect.” (Fr. Fluery)

I also loved the insiders view of life in the seminary, the hierarchy and type of priests. Art Breen brings this to life in such a wonderful way. I loved it. 4.5 stars. It is definitely a book I will recommend over and over again.

Although, fair warning….if you have an Irish Catholic mother it may cause you to twitch in some places. 🙂

You may also wish to read: The Bishop’s Man, by Linden MacIntyre (it’s another wonderful, great story with again, a different perspective to this topic. Was also a very worth Giller Winner!)

You can watch the Book Trailer for Faith here

You can visit Jennifer Haigh’s website here

Faith is now released in paperback, so if you are the type that waits for the paperback, go get it now! Available from HarperCollins Canada