The History of English Literature edited by Perry Keenlyside read by Derek Jacobi et al

Click to follow

This is one of the richest listening experiences I have had. All manner of familiar delights are here – "somer seasons when soft was the sun", "caverns measureless to man", Dover Beach, Gawain, Bacon and Bunyan, Conrad and Joyce. Inevitaby there will be dispute as to modern "greats". As compiler Perry Keenlyside admits, who will really survive can only be guesswork. Derek Jacobi calls the roll of honour with his inimitable combination of stately significance (the vowels low, long, musical) and accelerating emphasis (consonants tripping excitedly upwards), while the contrasting voices of the four actors who speak the excerpts (Teresa Gallagher, Anton Lesser, Jonathan Keeble and John Shrapnel) are used as effectively as the instruments in a string quartet. But identifying the true landmarks of English literature from Chaucer to Carol Ann Duffy within five hours of commentary and quotation is an ambitious project, and perhaps Naxos should have offered two publications – one devoted to prose, one to poetry.

Best of the Rest

The Peacetime Conscripts, by Charles Wheeler, BBC, £8.99. Was the "brasso, bull and bullying" of the two years of military service which was required of Britain's young men for 18 years after the war a blessing or a curse? Make your own mind up while you listen to this presentation of contemporary recordings and reflective modern comment by ex-participants.