The House of Mirth — Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth

This is a wonderful book. It immerses you into New York society a hundred or so years ago, a world where every social interaction is governed by intricate codes and strict, yet unwritten, rules. Lily Bart, the protagonist, is a consummate master of these rules, but will her extravagant tastes get the better of her and condemn her to a fate as an impoverished old maid? (Actually, I don’t know the answer yet: I’m only halfway through.)

It all sounds a bit Jane Austen, but Wharton’s prose seems to me to have a bit more steel in it, and her heroine is more morally ambiguous than, say, Elizabeth Bennet. There are many apposite metaphors, and a lot of insightful musing on human nature, apart from the engrossing plot.

I have not actually been reading this book at all — instead it is being read to me by my phone, using an ebook reading app and a text-to-speech engine. As the book is now in the public domain, I downloaded it from the Project Gutenberg website. I was inspired by Liraz Siri’s article on superfast audiobook listening. I don’t plan to go as fast as he did, but the set-up he recommends (Moon Reader Pro, Ivona TTS engine, and the Amy UK voice) works very nicely. Amy’s accent and intonation works perfectly for this story. The text-to-speech engine works amazingly well, even in a novel with a lot of dialogue. There’s one distracting gaffe though: Ivona pronounces Mrs Peniston’s name to rhyme with “venus ton” rather than “tennis ton”. The 9-year-old boy within me stifles a giggle every time he hears this.

I’m looking forward to reading this book again, but with my eyes instead of my ears, just to see if it’s still as good.

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