A Word in Your Ear: Girl With a Pearl Earring <br></br>Made in America

Christina Hardyment
Thursday 05 December 2013 03:40
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Tracy Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring (HarperCollins, c.3 hrs, £8.99) is a simple and beautiful historical novel inspired by a simple and beautiful painting by Vermeer. Chevalier writes like a painter, with sharp visual detail; audio allows your imaginary eye to conjure up 17th-century Delft and its people all the better, because your real eye is not tied to the page. Chevalier casts the wide-eyed girl glancing over her shoulder in Vermeer's startlingly immediate portrait (helpfully reproduced on the cover) as the daughter of an invalid Delft tilemaker who takes service in the painter's household and falls deeply in love with him as an artist as much as a man. It's a convincing story which sustains its suspense to the end and leaves you satisfied. Isla Blair's ice-fresh but intimate reading is perfect: I'd love to hear more of her on spoken word.

Bill Bryson's Made in America (Chivers, c.18 hrs, £19.50 mail order 0800 136919), jovially read by William Roberts, is also excellent audio as it's about language: why Americans speak English in such a different way, and where they got their vocabulary. In the process of explaining the provenance of words like bacon (pork smoked by Caribbean pirates in a stove called a "boucan") and Chevrolet (a failed French chauffeur), and why Americans say "lootenant" and not "leftenant", Bryson also provides a whistlestop history of the US itself, and the magnificent patchwork of peoples who have contributed to its cullture.

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