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A confession; when this came up on Amazon Vine I ordered it not for myself but for my wife, for whom the Anna Sewell classic novel was a staple from childhood. So, whilst I am writing the review, the detail for it I have got from her.
Russell Tovey is a household name and he does not let the listener down, offering a fine, acted reading of Black Beauty. The book itself is, of course, a classic. It is also disturbing in places with scenes of animal cruelty and whilst the novel is truncated, many of the darker aspects of the book remain. The dark aspects might make the story one for children who are that little bit mature, perhaps, and may prove upsetting for younger listeners. However, as well as being designed for adolescents it is also going to be of interest to those adults who read the book in their youth and remember it with fondness.
If there is a problem with the recording is the fact that the novel has been abridged. Whilst shortening the length for the younger listener (and whilst the abridging was well done) many listeners would, I am sure, prefer to listen to Russell Tovey narrate the unabridged version. A small gripe but, nevertheless, worth listing.
3.0 out of 5 starsI prefer to read the book and found the CD lacking in warmth.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 24 August 2013
I didn't enjoy the audio CD as much as I hoped and prefer to read the book.
Richard Tovey does a nice job of the narration it's just that the original Black Beauty is told from the perspective of the horse and that horse, and those around it, suffer a fair amount of brutality. 'Reading' how Black Beauty suffered is emotional, sad, but you feel the spirit of the horse can't be broken and you attach yourself to it. 'Listening' to how Black Beauty suffered was a different experience, clinical and cold, and I didn't form the same attachment. I wouldn't want my grandchildren to listen to how a pony was beaten or how a horse died, and I'm just giving you that information in case you haven't read the book.
The audio CD follows an abridged version of the original book and not the script from any of the Black Beauty TV spin offs. There's no major violence and blood shed, it's all very moderate, but the book is warm, hopeful, inspiring and the audio CD seems to be missing out on that.
Anyway; that's just a personal opinion and there's nothing too wrong with the narration or audio quality. Tovey does some great voices and injects energy and atmosphere into the story which runs to about an hour long. I'm 50/50 and would prefer to read the book.
This story was something my mother banned me from reading until I was grown up.
Not because it was horrible or violent, although there are moments of horror in there if you have any empathy and deplore the ill treatment of horses.
But because I used to get so hysterical about stories about sad animals I once cried myself physically sick about Lassie and she never forgave me - hence me not reading Black Beauty until I was in my thirties.
I thought, when I ordered this, 'I hope it doesn't make me cry until I'm sick.'
The story is well abridged and easy to listen to. Russell Tovey is a passable narrator, although rather pedestrian at times and he doesn't really give it much emotional welly.
On reflection, given the crying till I'm sick thing, I'm quite happy with that.
Black Beauty is a famous story. This is an abridged version of it, and lasts for 1 hour. I play it at night for my 6-year-old daughter as she goes to sleep. Here are some of things she recalls from the story:
* Black Beauty's mum said never kick or bite. * He never forgot this. * Once he went in the dog cart, but when they got to the bridge, Black Beauty stopped, even when the farmer smacked him and cut him, because the man with the torch said "stop, stop, the bridge is falling down." * They had to go another way at the four crossroads. * When he had to leave, his master said "always do your best." * At the new home they called him Black Beauty, not Blackbird or Ebony like the other horses. * When it got cold they gave him a bed of straw and such a lovely dinner, mashed potato and baked beans.
After a few listens she liked this, but from this series she prefers
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
2.0 out of 5 starsExcellent book, but a bad reading
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 5 September 2013
Anna Sewell's book "Black Beauty" is a powerful, prototype-PETA story deserving of a label like 'classic', but it is let down in this audiobook by a mismatched and awkward reading.
Russell Tovey is a good actor when cast in the right roles, but this isn't one of them. He sounds like he is reading out a disposition in court, one that he didn't even write himself. There's very little variation in feeling, in fact there's a major shortage of emotion altogether, even though the horse's story has a number of highs and lows.
Forgive me for saying so but I think Tovey's normal reading accent may be a little bit impenetrable to younger children, especially those who aren't from the South. When he attempts to put on farmer voices, it ends up being a sort of Wurzels pastiche of the West Country, fairly inappropriate to the tone of the text. The lack of variety or emotion will be offputting to younger listeners.
Black Beauty, the narrator, is a horse and this is the story of his life from his birth on an idyllic farm in the country to his retirement. Although starting well, with kind owners, his luck changes and he has to face the cruelty of Victorian London. As well as being exciting and full of incident, this is a very moral tale and shows the wisdom of treating both animals and people well.
It should not be confused with the television series of the same name which claims to be a continuation of the book. They have little in common. This is stronger meat and there are some very sad episodes in it, but they do not diminish its appeal. It is an optimistic book and its publication helped bring better conditions for cab horses in London. Perfect school run material.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 23 September 2013
I must admit to never having been fond of Black Beauty. Just hearing the theme on TV was enough to make me run for the remote to change channel and I have never read the book as any adaptation for screen just completely put me off it entirely. I saw this abridged version on CD and thought that perhaps this would turn things around. I would listen to this and I would learn to love Black Beauty. Russell Tovey's reading of the story disappointed me and I found that there was not a lot of emotional investment. Beauty goes through so much that I felt the story deserved more passion in the reading, something not particularly forthcoming. Tovey's accents are pretty poor and serve to distract attention from what I can now recognise is a powerful and moving story. Has the CD converted me into a fan of Black Beauty? I am still unconvinced but might now give the book a go ... so that's some progress at least!
4.0 out of 5 starsA powerful tale, sincerely delivered by Tovey
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 25 September 2013
Russell Tovey gives a lot to the reading of this (abridged) classic. Initially, I wasn't sure I was going to like his style as it seemed quite understated. But gradually both I and my almost-6-year-old warmed to his sincerity in delivering a story that had as much to do with improving animal welfare as Dickens' works did for their human contemporaries.
While the story is heavily chopped down - a full and unabridged reading takes over 5 hours whereas this is less than an hour - the essence has been well preserved and the moments of distress are well captured though not overplayed(beware if your little listeners are sensitive about such things).
The real test is whether my daughter asks for it in the car. And she does. So thumbs up from our household.
Russell Tovey does an excellent job of narrating this audio version of Black Beauty, which is more similar to the original book than the somewhat sanitised TV version that those of us who were children of the early 80's might remember. I did wonder how my 4 year old would perceive some of the more brutal aspects of the treatment which the horses receive - but so far the response has been limited to 'he isn't a nice man, is he, Mummy?' and 'Poor horse!' which I suppose in itself is no bad thing, if it helps to reinforce that animals should be well treated.
We enjoyed listening to this on a nice long car journey and I would definitely say it helped keep the kids quietly entertained in between service station stops. They have since asked for it a couple more times. Would definitely recommend.