The Week In Radio: Bedtime stories that are still the stuff of dreams

 

Where would radio be without literature? Stuck with hours of dead air, that's where. Just as we cram our shelves with books at home, so radio commissioners use them to grout the gaps between news programmes, science documentaries and The Archers. Look at the schedules and you'll see them all over the place, being discussed, dissected, dramatised or simply read out loud, Jackanory-style.

Not that I'm complaining. Being read to is one of life's greatest pleasures, the aural equivalent of being handed pyjamas fresh from the tumble dryer. For those of us who were read to by our parents, it catapults us straight back to our early childhood. Even now, as a grown-up and with offspring of my own, no sooner do I hear the words Book at Bedtime then I start sucking my thumb and whining for my blankie.

If having a writer or actor read a book is a treat for listeners, for producers it must be the greatest gift of all. So intimate, so magical, so... cheap! You can just picture them, clipboard in hand, bundling Julian Barnes into a studio with his new book and a six-pack of Evian, and barking "...and don't come out until you've finished!"

This week's late-night lullaby, by which I mean Book at Bedtime, is Polly Samson's Perfect Lives, a series of elegantly interlinked stories that capture the misplaced ambition and the broken-heartedness of middle-class life. Claire Skinner was an obvious choice to read the opening tale of a well-to-do wife and mother Celia Idlewild, even if it was a stretch to picture her offspring not as the warped little charmers on Outnumbered, but as sleepy, sloppily attired teenagers seemingly oblivious to the cracks in their parent's marriage. The early morning scene in Celia's kitchen pointed to an existence straight out of the White Company catalogue: the cosy dressing gown, the sputtering coffee machine, the window looking out on to a beach. But an egg posted through the letterbox was a strange and unwelcome reminder of her husband Graham's dark secret: a child born to another woman. Graham, it was discovered, had been making furtive visits to see his other daughter. There was no happy ending here, just a sense of suppressed fury, conjured by a handful of words and Skinner's husky voice in your ear.

The mystery of words on the page was articulately unpicked in Talking Books, in which Razia Iqbal talked to Alaa Al Aswany, the Egyptian author of The Yacoubian Building, and in Open Book where Mariella Frostrup interviewed the writer and poet Sarah Hall about The Beautiful Indifference, her first collection of short stories. While Aswany discussed extracting drama from real-life political events, Hall reflected upon the challenges of providing a physical and psychological landscape within her fictional narratives, and stressed the importance of creating "a feasible world where the atoms seem real".

Take away this "feasible world" and broadcasting a novel can be like draining the colour from a painting. In Classic Serial, a ghastly demolition job had been done on Henry James's 1903 book The Ambassadors, about a middle-aged editor dispatched by his widowed fiancé to retrieve her wayward son from Paris, replacing the dense prose with creaky, over-explanatory dialogue. Dramatisations needn't always be this laborious, as an excellent adaptation of Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate proved earlier this year, but I'd rather have listened to the book as it was written, and not the am-dram version. More often than not, the cut-price approach works best. A book and a voice is all you need.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'