Audiobook of the Week: Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey, read by Trevor White and Lorelei King

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The Independent Culture

There are those who maintain that Americans don't understand irony. James Frey (inset) does, or he couldn't have given this book such an optimistic title. It is the second-grimmest book about America of recent years: the first was his widely-acclaimed so-called memoir, A Million Little Pieces, which proved to be largely invented and caused a furore. Eventually, people who bought it were offered their money back: some took up the offer.

This one is described as a novel, but hey, back comes the irony. Frey's dark fiction is interspersed with bald "facts" about the history of Los Angeles. Some of them are true: all are read in an uncharacteristic, deliberate monotone by Lorelei King. They come as a relief from the meat of the matter, which consists of many harrowing stories. Some are the merest fragments – doomed or murderous characters looming up only to drift into the murky and terrifying unknown. Others linger long enough to engage the listener, even to allow for a little hope that something marvellous might happen. But Frey is not like that. Very nearly everything he touches ends in tears, or blood, or worse.

Trevor White reads with a steady, mesmerising reliability, somehow managing to make bearable the savage, cruel, misanthropic brilliance of the writing. Just as Goya used broad, black brush-strokes to depict the horrors of war, so Frey paints Los Angeles as Gehenna, the final destination of an incorrigibly decadent and self-destructive race.