Jenny Agutter's reading of Rose Tremain's magnificent novel Music and Silence is a long haul to listen to, but I found myself dreaming up excuses to don headphones. Never has the domestic brightwork been so highly polished or the dog so energetically walked. The setting is 17th-century Denmark, with interludes in Ireland, England and Norway, and at first the characters seem impossibly baroque – a king who insists on his musicians playing in a damp cellar so his guests can hear eerily unseen music, a consort with frenzied sexual appetites, an Irish earl obsessed with a melody heard in a dream, a child so abused by his stepmother that he retreats into the world of insects. Lighting up their dark worlds are an angelic English lute player and a beautiful maid-in-waiting. Gradually we come to understand why they do what they do, what their real worth is. But will good or evil triumph? The balancing act continues to the very last side of the very last tape, as Tremain interlaces her characters' colourful parallel lives with all the dexterity of the composer of a great symphony.
Best of the Rest
Lady Susan, written by Jane Austen, various readers, Naxos, 2hrs 30 mins, tape £8.99, CD £10.99. There are uncanny echoes of Absolutely Fabulous in Austen's first but posthumously published novel, a wicked portrait of a mother from hell which is given added effect by well-contrasted readers
For Children: Doctor Dolittle's Adventures, written by Hugh Lofting, read by Alan Bennett, BBC, 10 hrs, £22.50. There could be no better reader than Alan Bennett for Lofting's books, three of which are abridged in this collection.Reuse content