Spoken Word

The Drowning People, read by Tim Piggott-Smith; The Consolations of Philosophy, read by Alain de Botton
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The Independent Culture

The Drowning People read by Tim Piggott-Smith (Chivers, 11hrs 25mins, £16.95 by mail order, freephone 0800136919) This first novel was written by Richard Mason while he was reading English at New College, Oxford. James is 70, and he has just killed his wife because of something he found in one of her drawers. So far, so suspenseful, but as heard in the abridged version of the title, he also sounds infuriatingly complacent and boringly upper-crust, and I soon stopped listening. Fortunately, I tried the unabridged version as well. Brilliantly read by Tim Piggott-Smith, who keeps a young man's yearning showing through in James's profoundly world-weary voice, the book emerges as a roller-coaster read of hope deferred and unexpected, yet inevitable, twists of fate. Time and again we think we know just what is going to happen in the doomed love between James and Ella, heiress to Seton castle (recognisably St Michael's Mount). Time and again we are brought up short, until in the masterly climax, we understand - and forgive. There is a strong sense of place in Mason's writing, and the action moves from London to Prague, rural France and Cornwall.

The Consolations of Philosophy read by Alain de Botton (Penguin, c3hrs, £8.99) Alain De Botton is everywhere at the moment, but he deserves to be. To have got Socrates, Seneca and Montaigne being talked about on Radio 2 as helpful advisers on everyday problems is no mean feat. Add on to these Schopenhauer on love affairs, Epicurus on managing without money, and Nietzsche on coping with frustration, and a self-help text for our times emerges which is the Zen and the Art of Motor-cycle Maintenance of its age. Singlehandedly, de Botton has taken philosophy back to its simplest and most important purpose: helping us live our lives. This abridgement is a wonderful introduction to his engagingly direct approach, but you're certain to want to buy the book, with its much fuller text and prolific, if amateur, pictures. The tape will prove useful, however: you'll be able to pass it on to make new converts. Incidentally, if you missed it, his earlier How Proust Can Change Your Life has just been reissued by CSA Telltapes (3hrs, £8.99), read by the almost equally fashionable Samuel West.

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