'An old woman came into the restaurant to dine. She was fat, shapeless, ugly, and grotesque. She had a ridiculous voice, and ridiculous gestures. It was easy to see that she lived alone, and that in the long lapse of years she had developed the kind of peculiarity which induces guffaws among the thoughtless.
I reflected, concerning the grotesque diner: "This woman was once young, slim, perhaps beautiful; certainly free from these ridiculous mannerisms. Very probably she is unconscious of her singularities. Her case is a tragedy. One ought to be able to make a heartrending novel out of the history of a woman such as she."'
So said Arnold Bennett when explaining what inspired the creation of The Old Wives' Tale.
Broken up into four parts, the lives of two sisters are laid bare; one timid and unassuming, the other romantic and adventurous. From working as children in their family's drapery shop to their later years, Constance and Sophia's journey through life could not be more different. While one travels the world and defies male expectations, the other becomes a dutiful wife and mother.
Despite this, Bennett's skilful and witty narrative ultimately leads our protagonists in the same direction, making The Old Wives' Tale an intriguing interpretation of the circle of life and, unsurprisingly, his most popular work.
Arnold Bennett wrote over 20 novels and 10 plays, including Anna of the Five Towns, Clayhanger, These Twain, Hilda Lessways and Buried Alive. In June 2017, to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery commissioned a bronze statue of the author. He was elegantly immortalised sitting in a chair and holding an open book in his left hand.
David Haig is a classically trained actor, writer and LAMDA graduate. His film appearances include Two Weeks' Notice, Florence Foster-Jenkins and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
He wrote The Good Samaritan which opened at the Hampstead Theatre in 2000 to great reviews. His first script, entitled My Boy Jack, had also been performed at the Hampstead Theatre in 1997 and later broadcast on ITV, starring David Haig and Daniel Radcliffe.
Haig's theatre credits include Our Country's Good, for which he won a Laurence Olivier Theatre Award, Tom and Viv, which took him to Broadway, and the musicals Mary Poppins and Guys and Dolls.
His notable television roles in series such as Doctor Who, The Darling Buds of May, The Thin Blue Line and Penny Dreadful have also been exemplary of his varied acting skills and dynamic voice.
Other than The Old Wives Tale, David has also contributed to the narration of The National Archives' In Their Own Words: A History in Letters.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Jane on 24-04-10
Slow down and let yourself go
For the first hour or so I wasn't at all sure I liked this audiobook. Arnold Bennett seemed to witter on a lot and while the reader was good at accents, he was a bit over-dramatic for my taste I thought. Gradually I got drawn in further and further however. I got completely absorbed in the tale of Constance and then the tale of Sophia. Not only was this a riveting story; sometimes Bennett's observations on the way human beings think and react were so accurate and timeless it was breathtaking. I now agree it's a masterpiece.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
By Frances on 05-04-12
Masterly narration by David Haig
This is a superb work. Bennett‘s sweep of social history in provincial Bursley during the Victorian era is enlightened at all points by gentle irony and sardonic wit. The section which describes the Siege of Paris is fascinating and conveys a picture of conditions under the Siege which is quite different from that which we often imagine. The characterisation is masterly. The contrasting characters of the two sisters are portrayed with sympathy and understanding and the supporting characters are no less compelling. This really is compulsive listening – you won’t want to stop once you have started. David Haig’s narration is superb – his intonation and inflections convey the tone of the work perfectly - and what a joy it is to hear a narrator whose pronunciation of the French language is impeccable! I cannot praise this audio book highly enough.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Virginia Waldron on 13-12-11
Loved Every Word
The narrator is simply perfect. I listened with my eyes closed whilst I was on the treadmill every day. I have lost over 22 pounds doing this with other books as well as this one. An hour just flies. I just don't want to get off. Well, this story is spell-binding. The style of writing is lovely. The setting and characters are charming and the author makes the listener feel part of the whole scene. I have read the book prior to listening to this version and loved it but the superb narration has made me totally fall in love with this author. Fabulous in every way. Just love it all. I couldn't stop listening but I didn't want the story to end. Hooray for this narrator.... thank-you so much for your wonderful work... it has given me such immense pleasure and enjoyment. Who would have thought working out could be so much fun!
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
By Marc on 29-03-10
This is a wonderful book, beautifully read. I have always liked Bennett. (Perhaps some one will do The Statue, that he wrote with Eden Phillpotts, another good story.) It is amazing what a good writer can do with such "quiet" material. The lives of two sisters: One quite ordinary and the other forced by circumstances to survive by force of will. My only complaint is the same I have with so many audio books, and that is the horrible music. It sounds as if it were played by a speaker-phone on hold. I hope this penchant in audio books goes away for it is always distracting. The reader here was excellent, but he did pronounce Sophia, Sofia a couple of times which confused me. Still, this was one of the best books I've listened to all year. I doubt that you will forget the charactors and situations in this story for a long time.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful