Books: Spoken Word

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Vanity Fair

by William Thackeray

Cover to Cover, 30hrs 25mins, pounds 64.99

WATCHING TELEVISION adaptations of famous classics is enormously enhanced by listening to a spoken word version as well (not at the same time, of course). There is no doubt that the most outstanding of the numerous s on offer is John Castle's confidently paced reading of the complete novel for Cover to Cover. He copes with the omniscient-narrator passages and the dramatic encounters between heroines and villains equally well; the huge cast of worldly, cynical, pre-Victorian quality folk come alive quite wonderfully, and the true subtlety of Thackeray's characterisation of Becky Sharp emerges. A good second choice would be Penguin's four-cassette abridgement (8hrs, pounds 11.99), though reader Robert Hardy, masterful as narrator, is a shade woffly and gruff when speaking for Becky and Amelia.

Tales From Ovid

written and read by Ted Hughes

Faber, 3hrs, pounds 8.99

TED HUGHES read both his own poetry and that of other poets with a forceful energy that was almost mesmerising. Thankfully, a substantial number of his readings are available on Faber/ Penguin audiotapes. The most recently published is a set of unabridged extracts from his Tales of Ovid, a wild, highly sexually-charged working of the famous Metamorphoses. You can also hear Hughes read Crow, The Iron Man and reading from T S Eliot's Four Quartets. But a marvellous way of just hearing the man talk is to buy By Heart: 101 poems to remember (Faber/Penguin, pounds 8.99), a personal anthology of poems prefaced by some idiosyncratic tips on how to commit them to memory. A book of the text is also available (Faber, pounds 7.99).