Arts: THE WEEK IN RADIO

IT'S A neat - but, I'm fairly confident, accidental - piece of scheduling that has brought Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy to the air in the same week as Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdu: two great novels about the difficulty of remembering, and the difficulty of turning what we remember into stories, which both model the workings of the mind through digression, association and repetition. Another thing they have in common, by the way, is that the narrator is asthmatic.

The most obvious difference between them is that where Sterne takes our muddled consciousness as an excuse for comedy, Proust takes a more melancholy tone. At any rate, he does in all the versions of Proust I've come across, including a Radio 3 broadcast of Harold Pinter's The Proust Screenplay about 10 years ago. (Meanwhile, the Penguin Proust I got for Christmas 2003 is sitting pristine on the shelves, about three-quarters of the way towards the back of the long queue of great works of literature I really ought to have got round to reading by now.)

Melancholy was certainly the keynote in the first episode of In Search of Lost Time, the new Classic Serial (3pm, Sunday, Radio 4), which opened with emphatically solemn, sweeping music. Nothing wrong with a theme tune, of course; but a thing that irritated me about this generally thoughtful production was the way the theme music kept coming back. At several key points, the narrator, Marcel (James Wilby), returned to the central problem of memory and fact: he draws a distinction between facts that he can "recall by will, but are dead to me in reality", and the "precious and authentic" facts that spring to mind without the mediation of will. But this music turned statement of fact into editorialising, wrecking all the hard work done by Michael Butt's script.

John Taylor's production fell down at other points, notably Marcel's epiphanic taste of a madeleine, which (even we non-Proustians know) brings childhood memories flooding back. Suddenly, the air was filled with a babble of echoing voices, and a soprano voice singing an enigmatic melody in the background. You could hear how this worked as a representation of flooding; but the echo effect to represent memory is a dismally overused cliche, and it undermined any sense of precision. Other ideas worked better, notably the way a bell kept drawing the narrator back to this theme. The same device was used in the radio version of the Pinter script, if my memory serves. Which it probably doesn't.

The performances were mostly BBC Classic standard: unemphatic, intelligent enough, but oddly familiar - the same voices, with the same general tones, could turn up in a month or two doing Dickens or Balzac or Fielding or Dostoevsky. The exception was Imogen Stubbs as Odette, the teasing object of Charles Swann's obsessive passion. She brought a breathy ingenue quality that at moments came over like one of the pretty girls who gets wooed by Jim Dale in Carry On films; but at least she sounded fresh, as if she was exploring the part.

By contrast, Tristram Shandy, on Woman's Hour, (10am, Monday-Friday, Radio 4) sounds a bit rough and ready. Whether Sterne's masterpiece of digression and distraction counts as readable is perhaps open to argument, but you do get a sense that the narrative fits and starts are a product of energy - it moves at such a helter-skelter pace that sometimes it jumps the rails.

Neil Dudgeon's Tristram sounded as if he was digressing through timidity, a reluctance to get to the point. Later in the week, the pace picked up; but, as with so many serials in the Woman's Hour drama slot, the attempt to combine narration and dialogue was fumbled, with a cast that had no unity of style or purpose. It would have made more sense to do it all as monologue. Creditable try, but finally forgettable.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference