The book: Nowadays, Ben-Hur is mostly known as the basis for the Oscar-winning film adaptation starring Charlton Heston in the title role, usually shown in reruns in this week before Easter. In its own time, the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ was an unprecedented publishing success, spending years atop the best-seller list and sparking an expanded market for novels.
The novel continues to appeal mainly because of its Count of Monte Cristo-like core story of action, romance and revenge in which the title character, a Jew living under Roman rule, is stripped of all his possessions and sentenced to row in the galleys. The subtitle, A Tale of the Christ, refers to the story of Jesus, which intersects Ben-Hur’s life. To modern readers, this religious theme seems tacked onto the beginning and the end, but it was an important reason for the novel’s success as Victorians dropped their previous views of the immorality of novels and embraced religious fiction.
Part of the appeal of the book was that Wallace applied the best research of his time to put the story of Jesus into historical context. Of course, having done the research, Wallace feels the need to explain it at great length. These long descriptions, along with a tendency to indulge in religious-philosophical debates in King James English tend to drag down the story. Despite these failings, Ben-Hur is still a good book, though not a great one.
Rating: 7 / 10
The reader: I feel like I’m saying this every few months, but Mark Smith is a solid reader. I’ll admit I didn’t listen to the entire book; I alternated between reading a few chapters on my phone and listening to some chapters in the car. But when I was reading on my own, it was Mark’s voice in my head. He’s got a wholesome American accent that he modifies for the different characters, but his voices are not overdone or hammy. The sound quality is perfect and although his pacing is a bit slower than I prefer, that’s better than being too fast.
(Entered in the Book Review Wednesday contest at Cym Lowell. Follow the link for reviews of other books by various bloggers)