After firing up my Kindle Fire and looking for new audiobooks, this one caught my attention – I’m so very glad it did. It has represented marvellous value as for the cost of only a single credit, I have had the pleasure of nearly seventy-two hours of Fry’s narration.
BLURB: Ever since he made his first appearance in A Study In Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes has enthralled and delighted millions of fans throughout the world. Now Audible is proud to present Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, read by Stephen Fry. A lifelong fan of Doyle’s detective fiction, Fry has narrated the complete works of Sherlock Holmes – four novels and five collections of short stories. And, exclusively for Audible, Stephen has written and narrated nine insightful, intimate and deeply personal introductions to each title.
It has been a joy. I found it fascinating to listen to the variety of methods Conan Doyle used to structure his novels and his stories. Some of them were slightly derivative of other work he’d produced earlier in his career, but given the span of years he was writing Holmes’ adventures, I was impressed at how rarely this occurred. The other striking aspect of this collection was just how much I found myself disliking Holmes. He’s cold, arrogant and condescending to a degree that even occasionally annoys dear old Watson – in fact, thoroughly unpleasant. Each time I revisited this collection, within a handful of minutes I’d remember all over again just how much I loathed him. But there’s dear old Watson, who is the beating heart of all these stories. It is his humanity, kindness and acceptance of people’s quirks that sings off the page and drew me into the stories.
Conan Doyle’s writing style is also very easy to listen to – his ability to draw a quick description of a character and their surroundings, as well as his pacing and story structure are mostly impressively good. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Fry is narrating these – the range of voices and accents is impressive, without at any stage feeling forced or OTT. I also enjoyed his forewords and what he had to say about the body of work, as ever insightful and informative. And the reason it has taken quite so long for me to get to the end is that I have stretched it out, by interspersing each folder with one or more other books. But all good things must come to an end, and I have finally reached the last story in the last folder…
Any niggles, then? The one distasteful aspect of this collection, which I must point out, is the racism, xenophobia and chauvinism running throughout. I managed mostly to roll my eyes at the dismissive descriptions of any woman over the age of forty and the way all the younger females were objectified according to their looks and attractiveness. While it graunched, I was able to mostly shrug it off – I still recall similar attitudes being prevalent in the 1960s and 70s.
However, the racism inherent throughout did leave a bad taste in my mouth. There are some truly horrible descriptions, to the extent that one story in particular was skipped. It was striking that many of the more brutal antagonists were foreigners, spoken of with breathtaking condescension. I was intrigued to note that those stories published in the runup to WWI had a particularly strong vein of xenophobia running through them towards other Europeans. No one was truly trustworthy unless they were English and of a certain class – and male, of course. I’m aware they are a product of their time, but I would warn you that if this sort of depiction is a major issue for you, then this probably won’t be a collection you could listen to with any real pleasure. I would have scored this collection a ten but for this aspect, which did dent my enjoyment at times.