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.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 VMAs 2015: Was Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus' awkward acceptance put-down real or staged?
- 2 If you're not already angry about the migrant crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
- 3 Rules on 5p plastic bags likely to lead to arguments at the check-out
- 4 Chaos breaks out in courtroom as father attacks killer of three-year-old daughter
- 5 I like Corbyn, but let's face it: we don't need another white man at the head of a political party
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge on the show?'
Trevor Noah, Edinburgh Fringe review: New Daily Show host warms up in inspired style
X Factor 2015: Ratings drop almost 2 million compared to last year's launch show
VMAs 2015: Kanye West runs for president, Nicki Minaj calls out Miley Cyrus and the list of winners in full
VMAs 2015: Taylor Swift and her buddy Kendrick Lamar clean-up at awards - full list of winners
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up