Magazine article The Spectator

The Heath Revisited

Magazine article The Spectator

The Heath Revisited

Article excerpt

The heath revisited

I could never 'get' Eliot's The Four Quartets. The work seemed to be neither poetry nor philosophy; it was rather stranded uncomfortably between the two, for it had none of poetry's rich emotional language nor philosophy's systematic rigour. But then I heard an audiobook of Ted Hughes reading the poem, and I was won over. Hughes' rich Yorkshire voice disclosed the emotion intrinsic to the poem's abstract language, and his careful attention to its concepts revealed the writing's undeniable rigour. Thanks to Hughes, the Quartets is now my favourite poem.

Ever since, I have had a great fondness for audiobooks. A good reading is key to appreciating a work. And although novels do not require poetry's precision in intonation and timing, these arc still necessary for complete appreciation.

As a great lover of Hardy then, it was with a certain trepidation that I peeled off the clingfilm on Cover to Cover's The Return of the Native. These 12 cassettes might breathe Hardy's scaringly insightful spirit, in which all sentimental hopes wither and perish, leaving the reality of the situation painfully and yet beautifully present. Or here was an interminable betrayal of Hardy, masking the novel's integrity behind emotional histrionics welded together by matters of fact.

The odds were good, though. Cover to Cover have a catalogue of well-reviewed, unabridged classics on audiobook. And for the Native, they had secured Alan Rickman to read it, who has acted in a number of serious dramas as well as major films, including the latest blockbuster Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

I slipped the tape in then, with some confidence, and after a few seconds, Rickman's bass voice sounded the title and chapter number. Then Hardy's beautiful, opening description of the heath - an extraordinary piece of writing, in which the whole narrative is compressed in Hardy's dark reflections on the landscape - rang out in Rickman's bell-like tones. …

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