A Word In Your Ear: The Sea, The Sea<br></br>A Question of Blood

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The Independent Culture

I have never got far with reading Iris Murdoch's novels. I usually feel impatient with the artifice of the situations and the unsympathetic characters, and suspicious of their relentless cleverness. But the warmth and charisma of Derek Jacobi's voice reading the first-person narration of The Sea, The Sea (Random House, abridged, 6 hrs, £12.99) made me go on listening to the very end. Charles Araby is typically unlikeable - so arrogant that his entire view of the world is warped. He retires to a house by the sea to write his memoirs, but discovers that his first great love, who rejected him in his early twenties, is living nearby. Although she is in her sixties and married, he decides that she needs rescuing, and kidnaps her. All this could cue an Ealing comedy, but an attempted murder and accidental death soon darken the plot. Araby's magus-like cousin James saves the situation, leaving listeners immensely amused and realising that, perhaps, they are not so very different from Araby.

The back story of Ian Rankin's Inspector John Rebus fills in with the revelation in A Question of Blood (Orion, abridged, c. 7 hrs, £12.99) that he failed the arduous tests for the SAS. That helps him enter the mind of the ex-SAS loner who appears to have gunned down three high-school kids and shot himself. But what really happened? As usual, the story is projected with almost cinematic vividness by James Macpherson.