Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Audio Books

Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Audio Books

Article excerpt

Recent audio books

Charlotte Moore

Listening to books on tape is easier than reading them, but it's a lot more irritating. I am an audio novice, and I found it hard to come to terms with my loss of control over the pace. Reading, one develops a sense for where to linger and where to hurry; listening, one is under the sway of the measured tones of the actor, whose job is to make sure that justice is done to every word. The trouble is, not every word of every book deserves fair treatment. The actor's voice itself is, of course, as rich a source of annoyance as of pleasure. Mispronunciations and misplaced emphases, Blue-Peter-presenter-style, slip in to the most careful of renderings. Then there's the question of accents. Most actors seem to feel that they should earmark each new character with a startling accent of some kind. I wish they didn't.

Michael Palin reads Full Circle (BBC, 10 cassettes, 12.99) himself, which was probably why I enjoyed it most of the six audio books I was sent for review. Lovely, twinkly Michael Palin, the media personality one would most like to be married to not least because he seems to be out of the country for two-thirds of the time describes his journey round the Pacific Rim in the form of a diary. Finding humour but never poking fun, undemanding but never unintelligent, self-deprecating without false modesty, Palin reminds those of us who are kitchenbound that the world is an endlessly explorable place, and that human beings are the most interesting things in it.

Simon Shepherd, of Peak Practice fame, makes a pretty good fist of William Boyd's Armadillo, best-selling. story of a loss adjuster at a loss (Chivers Audio Books, 10 cassettes, 16.95). Shepherd's voice is flexible enough to cope with Boyd's gallery of grotesques, though he makes the women characters sound sillier than they're meant to be. Everyone else thinks that Armadillo is marvellous, and I can't quite account for the feeling of dissatisfaction it gave me. I was going to say that the story was unresolved, with too many loose ends left trailing, but then I realised that what had actually been left trailing was the final cassette which had been eviscerated by my young son. So I got hold of the book and yes, it's perfectly neatly resolved, but I just didn't find it as funny or disturbing or incisive a portrait of contemporary London as I was meant to. Sorry.

Nick Hornby's About a Boy (Chivers Audio Books, 6 cassettes, 14.95 ) is another urban fable, though much less ambitious than Armadillo. It's an amiable morality tale in which, in time-honoured fashion, a child teaches an adult what life's all about, and Hornby's accurate use of detail and sympathy for North London no-hopers make it enjoyable enough. …

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