New and Noteworthy

Contemporary Review, July 2000 | Go to article overview
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New and Noteworthy


The spoken books is the format through which many people come across great works of literature. In many cases, hearing the text is better than reading it -- this is especially the case with poetry. It is, after all, something of a return to the old custom wherein a member of the family read a text aloud or, centuries before that, to the oral literature of our ancestors. One of the world's leading producers of spoken word texts is, of course, Penguin Audio and they have recently released two classic texts. The first is George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (ISBN 0-14-180191-3. Six cassettes. Ten hours.) read by Timothy West whose superb voice catches all the subtleties of the text. The second Penguin tape, issued in conjunction with Faber & Faber, is Jim Broadbent's reading of the unabridged text of W. S. Gilbert's The Bab Ballads (ISBN 0-14-180178-6. Two cassettes. Two hours.), a perfect example of reading bringing marvellous poetry to life.

The BBC, of course, is known round the world as a major force in enhancing and preserving spoken English. Their famous 'Radio Collection' has recently released a wide range of tapes of famous programmes from BBC Radio. There are two tapes of the incomparable Joyce Grenfell: Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure (ISBN 0-563-22606-4. Two cassettes. Three hours, fifteen minutes.) and Dear Joyce... Dear Ginnie: The Letters of Joyce Grenfell and Virginia Graham (ISBN 0-563-55272-7. Two cassettes. Two hours, twenty minutes.) Other releases include two famous BBC programmes which started on television and were then transferred to radio: Dad's Army: A Soldier's Farewell: Volume 10 (ISBN 0-563-55347-2. Two cassettes. Two hours.) and The Complete Yes Prime Minister (ISBN 0-563-55332-4. Six cassettes. Six hours.) with twelve of the original television episodes. These remain, a legal expert has remarked, one of the best insights into the British Constitution since Dicey.

Also from the BBC's 'Radio Collection' is Daphne Du Maurier's most famous novel, Rebecca (ISBN 0-563-39469-2. Two cassettes. Two hours.) read here by Harriet Walter and a dramatised version, first heard on Radio Four, of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (ISBN 0-563-55226-3. Two cassettes. Two hours.) in which Jamie Glover stars as Dorian Gray and Ian McDiarmid as Lord Henry Wotton.

Among new printed books worthy of note WEIDENFELD & NICOLSON have published Andro Linklater's The Code of Love: A True Story ([pound]U6.99. 235 pages. ISBN 0-297-64358-4). This is a fascinating account of how one man survived the horrors of a Japanese p.o.w. camp. Donald Hill did so by keeping a diary in a secret code. While he ultimately succumbed to mental illness brought on by the war he left the diary that has now been decoded and used as the basis for this story of love, separation, war, torture and impaired survival.

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