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Goodreads⎮Reviewed Feb. 2018
Narrator: Juliet Stevenson
Length: 15 hours 48 minutes
Publisher: Hachette Audio⎮2017
Synopsis: Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London’s grandest postcode. Set in the 1840s, when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is peopled by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. At the Duchess of Richmond’s new legendary ball, one family’s life will change forever.
5★ Audiobook⎮ Belgravia has been on my list for a while now and I finally decided to hear it because I was in the mood for something Downton Abbey-esque. Julian Fellowes, the author of Belgravia, is also the writer of Downton Abbey. I’ll come right out and say it: If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, there’s a good chance you will enjoy Belgravia.
It isn’t directly comparable to Downton Abbey, but several indirect comparisons can be made, given Fellowes’ masterful writing signature. Belgravia features a cast of both “upstairs and downstairs” characters. Unlike Downton Abbey, Belgravia followed more than one family. The summary states that “one family’s life will change forever”, but the spotlight didn’t appear to be that exclusive. I can argue that at least two families lives were changed as a result of events surrounding the Battle of Waterloo, possibly even three (by extension).
Belgravia was a 19th-century soap opera. The semi-frequent changes in POV made it feel like the Young and the Restless rotating the spotlight between the Newmans and the Abbotts. I’ve never been one to gravitate toward a Victorian setting, typically finding them stuffy and repressed to the point of mind-numbing boredom, but Belgravia was a welcomed surprise. I’m now convinced that anything Julian Fellowes touches is as good as gold.
One thing fans of Downton Abbey might find disappointing is the lack of focus on the “downstairs” characters (servants). The balance of Belgravia was tipped heavily in favor of the society folk and the servants shown were much less dynamic, usually only acting as plot devices. Still, it worked for me. Belgravia isn’t Downton Abbey, after all. But there are enough broad stroke similarities (via Fellowes) to satisfy. If you’re looking for something to fill the Downton Abbey-shaped hole in your heart, I think this is as close as you’ll come.
Narration review: Oh my! What a performance. Belgravia gave the feeling of having been to see a show at the theater. There were swells of emotion in every direction and the pacing was perfect. Juliet Stevenson is a wonder of the narration world. A third of the way into the book, Stevenson had already knocked my socks off with an emotional monologue. More than any other audiobook narrator in recent memory, Stevenson made me feel the characters’ emotions. She had a direct line to my heart. Her performance was filled with such emanating passion that I frequently had to pause the audiobook and take deep breaths because it felt like the story was unfolding around me.
I venture to say that the audiobook performance of Belgravia could run circles around its book counterpart. Stevenson’s performance transforms the story into something more magnificent than the original work. This is undoubtedly a story that should be heard rather than read. And, for the record, I’m now dying to see Belgravia come to life on screen with Stevenson (an actress) in a leading role. 6 out of 5 stars and a standing ovation. ♣︎