Pick of the week The New Testament
Saturday 21 June 1997
Such travesties of the real thing give all audio abridgements a bad name. But when an abridgement is good it is very, very good, particularly with a first-class reader. In a busy age, many of us just can't find the time to do the reading we'd like: there is a case for saying that looking and listening now gives even well-educated moderns more cultural stimulus than reading. And seen as tasters rather than substitutes, abridgements have an undeniable usefulness.
Most classic literature was after all written to be read aloud. After listening to The Old Testament (Naxos, 8hrs, pounds 16.99) and, The New Testament (Naxos, 8hrs, pounds 16.99), I now have a far more coherent grasp of the Bible than I ever got from going to church. It is read (in the Authorised Version) by a variety of excellent voices (oh God! oh Philip Madoc!) and sensitively abridged "with the intelligent lay reader in mind" by Perry Keenlyside. The New Testament has almost every word of Matthew, only trims repetitions from other gospels, and gives virtually all of the extraordinary Revelations. "I used the Book of Common Prayer as a guide, in order not to omit anything people would miss. It had a knack of picking the best bits!"
Short, powerfully visual novels, these days often written with half an eye on a future screenplay, are well suited to the skilled abridger's lancet. Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (Reed Audio, 3hrs, pounds 7.99) fits comfortably into a two-cassette format; Ger Ryan's heartbreakingly vulnerable voice doubles its emotional effect.
The greater the author, the more controversial the idea of abridgement. "Abridging Austen was like cutting holes in fine lace," says Heather Godwin, whose Emma (Naxos, c4hrs, pounds 8.99) won last year's Talkies award for abridged classic fiction. "I hated the idea of doing it at all - she of all authors ought to be sacrosanct. But I said I'd have a go. And although it was heartbreaking at one level, and it took an incredibly long time, in the end I wasn't ashamed of what I'd done." She describes herself as "filletting" Austen, leaving dialogue intact and trusting the nuances of the reader's voice to substitute for spelt-out descriptions.
Chris Wallis of Watershed Productions says that he found it far easier to hack great chunks from Ivanhoe than to decide which one of every three words of Ben Elton's tightly written Popcorn (Simon & Schuster, 4hrs, pounds 12.99) had to go. He succeeded brilliantly but remains uneasy. "It's quite a short book, but so well-written that every word was working. It's much easier to cut bad books than good ones - sometimes I think I actually improve bad books." Some authors (among them P D James, Len Deighton and Anita Brookner) refuse to allow their books to be abridged for audio. You certainly have a choice: tape versions of many novels, new and old, are available unabridged from such companies as Cover to Cover, Isis and Chivers. But be warned. Besides being pricey, the complete version is not always the best.
It's interesting that we accept the idea of a film or radio dramatisation of a book, however famous, without a murmur. Yet both lose or distort far more of the original than an abridged audiobook does. Arguably, the skills of a good audio abridger are equal to those of a good screenplay writer. David Baldacci's much-hyped Absolute Power is a middling quality thriller in print and a horlicks of wasted talent on the screen. The best of the three versions is in fact the audiobook (Simon & Schuster, 3hrs, pounds 7.99), in which the turgid forensic detail is trimmed and the dramatic action tightened, but the story remains true to itself: the hero dies.
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Kim Jong-un shows off airport designed by architect he likely had executed
- 2 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 3 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 4 Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L James's Twitter Q&A didn't go exactly as planned
- 5 Facebook rainbow profile pictures likely being tracked by social network
Orange Is The New Black season 3 episode 1, review: The Ross and Rachel-ness of Piper and Alex is starting to grate
The picture of a man crowd surfing in a wheelchair at Glastonbury is brilliant, but it wasn't taken at Glastonbury
Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L James's Twitter Q&A didn't go exactly as planned
Guillaume Tell, Royal Opera House, review: Gang rape and stripping naked of female actor met with boos
Glastonbury 2015: Shocking scenes of rubbish left strewn across campsite as clean-up begins
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Pentagon accuses Russia of 'playing with fire' over nuclear threats towards Nato
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS
Tunisia beach attack: How can British Muslims respond to the latest outrages?