Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

Posted 25 March, 2013 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 16 Comments

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Title: Vanity Fair
Author: William Makepeace Thackeray
Narrator: Wanda McCaddon
Published: 1847-8; Pages: 809
Audio Duration: 28 hours; 46 min
Genre: Fiction/Classic
Rating: 3/5

In Short: A satirical account of the vanities that consume one’s life–or as Thackeray says: “A Novel without a Hero.”

Why I Read it: Vanity Fair has been on my shelf for years. Don’t judge, but I probably bought it after the Reese Witherspoon movie came out and once upon a time I did read 75 pages or so. When I put it on my Classics Club list, Melissa of Avid Reader’s Musings suggested we co-host a readalong.

Thoughts in General: There are many things that I enjoyed about Vanity Fair. The narrator, also the author, provides a cunning and often biting look at society in the early 1800s–everything from education, to dress, to class, to money, to the wars, and even love. There were many times when I laughed out loud, mostly because the narrator shocked me in some way or other. And while I can’t say that I liked any of the characters, they did amuse me and I found the overall storyline entertaining.

I feel like I should go into more depth about the book, but unfortunately it didn’t win me over like I expected it might. There were definite gems of moments throughout the novel and I did find myself enjoying the reading more than the listening, but there was also a lot of filler in the novel that I didn’t really care to wade through. You know–the critical thinky analytical view of society and the message that Thackeray was providing. In a way I almost feel that these types of books are best when studied rather than read for pleasure–at least in my current state of mind. So, a long paragraph of babbles to tell you that there is probably a ton of depth in this book but honestly I just wanted an entertaining read. Dear reader, please forgive me for my brain mush.

From the Book:  “the truth may surely be borne in mind, that the bustle, and triumph, and laughter, and gaiety which Vanity Fair exhibits in public, do not always pursue the performer into private life, and that the most dreary depressions of spirits and dismal repentance sometimes overcome him” (211).

Bottom Line: Stay away from classics on audio (this is note to self). I had the same problem with this one as I did with Bleak House–30 minutes of zoning out before I truly realized that I hadn’t paid attention at all during my commute. With Bleak House I tried to re-read or re-listen to the parts I missed but I just couldn’t bother to make myself with Vanity Fair. Good news is there are less characters than in Bleak House (except those stinkin’ Crawleys) and the story was easier to follow. But, my reading/listening was very cursory. Thus I have no bottom line recommendation for you. I felt “meh” but it was probably the way I experienced the book.

A Note on the Audio: Ignore everything I said in the paragraph above. I really enjoyed Wanda McCaddon’s narration of Vanity Fair. Her pacing was quick and her tone was playful and witty. She reminded me a lot of Isobel Crawley from Downton Abbey–enough that I actually looked it up to see if they were the same actor. Many of the other narrators available for Vanity Fair are male–as is the actual narrator of the book–but I rather enjoyed McCaddon’s performance and would recommend her reading.

And so. It’s tough to write a review when you only half paid attention to the book. Not my favorite classic but I do look forward to finding a film adaption to watch–I’ve heard there’s a good BBC version.  A big thank you for those who participated in the #YoureSoVain readalong. I hope you all had fun!

Have you read Vanity Fair? What did you think?

16 Responses to “Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray”

  1. I really didn’t like this book. I didn’t want to say anything while you were reading it, but it took me FOREVER to read because it kept putting me to sleep. If he had cut out about a hundred pages or so of superfluous crap, it would have been a much better book.

  2. I haven’t read this yet but it’s on my Classics Club list. I think it is? Here’s the deal: When you have 60 books on a list it’s hard to remember what is on it! I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed this one…even if it didn’t knock your socks off ;)

  3. Filler sections, that might be why I’m having trouble getting through it. It’s a good book, but perhaps not as interesting or fun as I thought it would be. You must be glad to have finished it!

  4. I couldn’t do it. I tried, I really did, but, while I enjoyed Becky’s sections, I was bored to tears in…uh…is it Amelia? See, I can’t even remember her boring name! Maybe I need a…gasp…abridged version? *cringe*

  5. You’re calling me a rockstar on my blog, but look at you! What an achievement. Maybe not the greatest fun, but you sat it through. Well done. I know, when you host a read-a-long you just have to read the book! I had this with an awful book by Bolano that I didn’t like at all. But I hosted it, so I read all (900 or so) pages.

    I have no intention of reading Vanity Fair myself… I hope some of the other people in the read-a-long loved it.

  6. I say yea for finishing it! Even though you didn’t like it, at least it had some bits that were entertaining :)
    And anytime I’ve tried to listen to classics they put me right to sleep zzzz

  7. Ha, oh Vanity Fair and your silly unlikeable characters. I think the main thing I enjoyed was how much it reminded me of Gone With the Wind. I had an easier time connecting with the characters because I was thinking of Melly and Scarlett. I still didn’t like most of the characters, but there were aspects I enjoyed.

    p.s. Even if we didn’t love the book I’m glad we did the readalong!

  8. Oh Vanity Fair :-) Well at least you finished it!

    I agree that listening to classics on audio isn’t the best – I think they just require more concentration than that. The only classics I listen to on audio now are ones that I’ve already read, like Pride and Prejudice or Wuthering Heights.

  9. Well, I guess I enjoyed Vanity Fair a lot more than you did, Trish. The audio really helped me through – might not have conquered those unreadable chapters otherwise! I won’t ever reread VF, but have a couple of movie adaptations ahead of me now. Thanks for co-hosting the readalong.

  10. I actually like classics on audio precisely because I can zone out when it is boring. Especially if sections are particulary boring/irrelevant. I would never have gotten through Moby Dick if not for the audio and can admit that some parts were zoned out and I don’t regret or apologize.

  11. I think I felt basically the exact same way as you. I should never have listened to something this layered and long and classic on audio.

  12. So much filler in books of this era. Which makes reading preferable – much easier to skim! I didn’t love this one but I was happy that Thackery didn’t make Becky “see the light” and right her wicked ways.