Spoken Word

Madame Bovary read by Imogen Stubbs; Set in Darkness Read by James Macpherson
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The Independent Culture

Madame Bovary read by Imogen Stubbs (Naxos, c5hrs, £11.99, CD £16.99) Ideally, Of course, one would read Gustave Flaubert's masterpiece in preparation for the television version of Madame Bovary which is being broadcast early next week. But Heather Godwin's intelligent and sensitive abridgement is the best possible substitute for the real thing; it is also generously long. Flaubert wanted to take the form of the novel to new heights with Madame Bovary, "to give psychological analysis the rapidity, clarity and passion of a purely dramatic narration". He took five years to write the book and, held to the speed of the voice, we can fully appreciate the delicate nuances of his prose, almost see the tiny drops of perspiration, the tendrils of hair, that catch at the heart of young Dr Bovary when he first meets Emma. Reader Imogen Stubbs begins with a lightness in her voice, holding plenty of steel in reserve for the sombre finale of a story which shocked France when the first instalment was published in 1856. Godwin's informative notes tell us that Flaubert had to make cuts but was still taken to court on immorality charges. When the quality of the book was at last recognised, it became a bestseller.

Set in Darkness Read by James Macpherson (Orion, 6hrs 20mins, £11.99) The Generous length of Kati Nicholl's abridgement is also an attractive aspect of Ian Rankin's latest detective thriller. Too often, the top-selling authors owned by huge publishing combines are given short shrift by having their books massacred into two-cassette form, so that they become more like summaries than stories. Such productions sell on their names, but do no service to the medium or the authors. It's a sign of the now well-established status of spoken word that four-cassette abridgements are becoming more common and that talking books are being given more space in bookshops.

Addicts will need no introduction to Rankin, but for those who haven't yet enjoyed his terse, punchy prose and his caustic Scottish hero DI John rebus, they are doing for Edinburgh what Dexter's Morse novels did for Oxford. The latest in the series takes the topical theme of the new Scottish Parliament. A man murdered in the 1970s is discovered in the building that is being refurbished to receive it. Then Roddy Grieve, an MSP candidate, is found dead there, and a down-and-out commits suicide. Could the three deaths be linked?