Books: Deadpan McGann and the bad aural sex prize
It's the way you tell it: new audio books
Sunday 09 May 1999
Give yourself just five minutes of Richard E Grant reading Ian McEwan's Enduring Love (HarperCollins pounds 8.99), but make sure that you have no pressing engagements for the next couple of hours.
Grant's voice has a kind of sophisticated, fastidious and weary innocence. He describes with care the opening tableau of this complicated tale. The narrator and his partner Clarissa are having a picnic while, in the distance, a balloon is tugged by blustery winds up into the perilous sky, a child marooned in its basket. As the sinuous plot spools out, Grant employs, without caricature, other voices: lighter and sharper for Clarissa; thin, menacing and breathy for the obsessive boy who comes close to killing them; a plangent wretchedness for the widow whose husband died trying to hold the balloon down. Each becomes immediately credible, in this subtle reading of an already great novel.
Sometimes, the reader is better than the book. Robert Llewellyn's The Man on Platform Five (Hodder Headline pounds 8.99) is Ian Ringfold, a nerdy, adenoidal train-spotter who becomes the Eliza Doolittle of a silly story about a great project to transform him into a stud. Two Sloaney half-sisters called (are you ready?) Gresham and Eupheme are locked in mortal combat over this anorak, and the creaky plot spirals down towards scenes of grotesque absurdity which include a serious contender for a Bad Aural Sex prize. Yet, though he's not much good at the posh women, Chris Barrie provides a wonderfully flat East Midlands voice for hapless Ian and a series of excellent cameos of such media luminaries as Hugh Laurie and Ruby Wax. He makes it almost (but actually not quite) worth listening to.
Sharpe's Fortress (HarperCollins pounds 8.99) is another in this class. Here, the reader of Bernard Cornwell's latest swashbuckler is the lugubrious Paul McGann. Cornwell is famous for knowing every detail of the kit, costume and general carryings-on of Wellington's army. This episode features a lot of reddened bayonets, men with "sweat streaks striping their powder- blackened faces" and similar tongue-twisters. It's almost unbelievably gory, but if anyone can read convincingly about claymores slashing, men being castrated with (someone's else's) bare hands and all the paraphernalia of enfilades, embrasures, booming cannon and screaming balls (sorry, Lieutenant), it's Dead-Pan McGann. Some people, unfortunately, will relish it.
The Countess of Ranferly was The Ugly One of her family. Her memoirs (Penguin pounds 8.99) are read with plucky panache by Joanna David. This is surprisingly good. Her Grace has no pretensions to literary flair but instead sets it all down as it happened. Her style is addictive - straightforward and uncomplaining, though it describes some frightening episodes. You may find it hard to believe that the listener could be so wrung out by childhood illnesses, the loss of a family and the schizophrenia of a distant mother but that is how it happens. As the pampered child becomes the custodian of inadequate parents and sets about trying to earn a living, you find yourself rooting for her, all the way.
Finally, two American offerings with more in common than their titles. David Guterson's East of the Mountains (HarperCollins pounds 8.99) describes a hunting trip made by an elderly, widowed heart surgeon, dying of cancer. He intends to make his suicide look like a shooting accident but events deprive him of his car, his dog and his rifle. Thus diminished, in pain and racked by horrible memories of wartime atrocities, he finds, amongst itinerant apple-pickers in the mountains of Washington State, a reason for returning home and brazening it out. William Hootkins reads with commendable dignity. It is moving and uplifting.
Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (HarperCollins pounds 8.99) is quite simply a tour de force. Nobody, this month, comes anywhere near the sheer imaginative virtuosity of Kerry Shale's reading. He tells the story of Inman, wounded and running away from the last skirmishes of the American Civil War. Inman longs to return to Ada, a girl with whom he had begun to fall in love before the war began. Episodes from her tough and isolated life and his picaresque journey are set against each other until the moment of their meeting in an abandoned Indian settlement amongst snowy mountains. Shale produces a dozen different voices to give a living, unforgettable texture to a magnificent book. To read it was a rare treat: to listen to this superb performance is even better.
Arts & Ents blogs
Dennis Hopper's lost sixties photo album found
The Independent Bath Literature Festival: 'Top Gear' makes Saudis look liberal, Kirsty Wark tells book festival
Stewart Lee: Beware - this man may be only joking
Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role because late wife Natasha Richardson said she wouldn't marry him if he took it
100 WEIRD YEARS
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
- 1 International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
- 2 Orgasm machine to deliver climax at the push of a button
- 3 Dear 'The Sun', breast cancer isn't sexy
- 4 Teacher shows sex tape featuring herself to pupils during class by mistake
- 5 Singapore sting: Sky-high prices are pushing locals to the edge of affordability