Books: Spoken Word

This Sceptred Isle: the 20th century 1, 1901-1919 Read by Anna Massey, Robert Powell BBC, c2hrs, pounds 8.99 First Love Read by David Troughton Cover to Cover, c3hrs, pounds 8.99
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EVERY DAY until the millennium, we are getting a daily 15-minute Radio 4 dose of The Sceptred Isle: the 20th century. Great enthusiasm greeted the first 20 tapes of the series, a whistle-stop tour of British history from 55BC to 1901. Ten cassettes are being employed to deal with our own century, which will reduce the "1066 and all that" feel of the first series. But I still have to say that I think the whole thing is a huge missed opportunity. The concept is brilliant - we all wish we knew the bones of our national history better. But why waste the potential of the medium by limiting the production to a straightforward narrative with only two readers, one of whom reads with a schoolmarmy bossiness that makes me want to throw something at the tape-player?

IVAN TURGENEV's exquisite story of a 16-year-old's first experience of falling in love is a classic of Russian literature, but is not well enough known in Britain. It belongs in the same stable as The Go-Between and Catcher in the Rye, with an additional frisson in that the hero's rival in his loved-one's affections is his sophisticated, adulterously- inclined father. In this unabridged reading, David Troughton takes us through all the ecstatic ups and tragic downs of the story. For modern listeners, it is also extraordinarily historically revealing as to how people then thought and acted. To remount the hobby-horse on which I was firmly seated in the last review: extracts from similarly excellent contemporary writing by a variety of readers should surely have been used to vary and embellish This Sceptred Isle.