Books: Spoken Word

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An Instance of the Fingerpost

by Iain Pears

Random House, c 6hrs, pounds 11.99

Fanny HIll

by John Cleland Naxos,

c 4hrs, pounds 11.99

Iain Pears's is a detective novel set in Oxford in the 1660s, just after the monarchy was restored. It had the bad luck to be published here in the week of Diana's death - elsewhere in the world it sold 100,000s of copies. Impeccably researched and constructed along the lines of Durrell's Alexandrian Quartet, with four different viewpoints offering four different versions of both events and characters, this is a richly textured story which knocks spots off Umberto Eco's over- rated Name of the Rose. Reader Paul Michael gets into the skin of each of the four chroniclers, and indeed the angelic and much-abused Sarah, with chameleonic versatility; punctuations of Renaissance music add frisson. This is one of the best audiobooks I have heard.

John Cleland's Fanny Hill is certainly no angel, and cheerfully admits it. Her personal rake's progress is an oddly charmed one - no kids, no pox, nothing that Fanny can't refuse, and a gloriously happy romantic ending. Read with utterly lascivious relish by Sarah Fielding, this irrepressibly bouncy production makes stirring, occasionally very stirring, listening. But though the many wind-ups to climax are extremely effective, John Cleland's imagination is too obsessed by maiden- heads and stallionesque length and diameter to offer any real joy to ladies. No wonder that Fanny ended up on the straight and narrow with her darling, moderately- sized Charles.

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