I listened to the Blackstone Audio book, read by Nadia May, who was wonderful and clearly enjoyed reading this book aloud. I don't think my experience would have been nearly as rich reading the book to myself. The downside is that it's almost 16 hours long! That's a pretty big time investment as a listener.
The plot is a fairly simple pastoral romance in the times when inheritance and class were everything (1830s), and it could have been boring, trite, or overwrought by another author. But Gaskell had an amazing ability to portray people with such detail and depth that you sympathize with even the most irritating characters. In other hands, Molly's step-mother could have been a complete shrew with no redeeming qualities and Squire Hamley could have been a stock-character blowhard who exists solely to advance the plot. Instead, you feel you know these and all the other characters, and you understand them in their failings and their better qualities. I was sad to get to the end of the story. ESPECIALLY sad because Gaskell died before she could finish the novel! There is an afterword that talks about notes Gaskell left that show the direction she would have taken the story, but boy, that's a cold substitute for her warm and lively prose that transports you right into the drawing rooms of Hollingford.