E-books/audiobooks review: fiction

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 April, 2013, 4:14pm

A Treacherous Likeness

by Lynn Shepherd

Constable and Robinson


The extraordinary lives of poets Percy Shelley and Lord Byron have been told many times. Most interpretations centre on the nights spent besides Lake Geneva when, along with Mary Shelley and John Polidori, they wrote a series of ghost stories - only to be outdone by the less famous duo, who composed Frankenstein and The Vampyre respectively. Lynn Shepherd wisely avoids this well-trodden path, and instead examines Shelley's fraught relationships: with second wife Mary, first spouse Harriet Westbrook and sometimes lover Claire Clairmont. Having cut her teeth with clever re-writes of Mansfield Park and Bleak House, Shepherd turns the high-art soap opera into a murder mystery. Her new detective, Charles Maddox, attempts to uncover what happened to poor Harriet, who supposedly committed suicide in the Serpentine. But did she? Who in Shelley's circle had a reason to get rid of her? Shepherd creates a smart, if fantastic murder story out of real-life events. Clever and great fun.

The Child's Child

by Barbara Vine

(read by Finty Williams)

AudioGO Ltd


For those who haven't followed Ruth Rendell's 48-year career, Barbara Vine is her bestselling alter ego. The Child's Child is an intriguing, if not completely successful slice of psychological thriller topped by a dollop of meta-fiction. Our protagonists are siblings Grace and Andrew Easton. Grace is researching a PhD on 19th-century women's fiction. Andrew has just arrived at their swanky Hampstead house with new boyfriend James, a handsome novelist. James and Grace argue from the start: he takes offence at her work on unmarried mothers, arguing that historically, gay men have suffered greater persecution. Cue the novel within the novel called, you guessed it, "The Child's Child". Published in 1929, its plot concerns a brother and sister who live together and face questions of scandal, sexuality and love. The echoes of the main story's themes are not subtle, but they are effective. Finty Williams reads with the cool, intelligent tones of an academic whose passions rage beneath the surface.

Questions of Travel

by Michelle de Kretser

Allen and Unwin


Questions of Travel, Michelle de Kretser's ambitious fourth novel (after The Rose Grower, The Lost Dog and The Hamilton Case), follows the lives of two central characters, each with a predilection for globe-trotting. Following the death of her nomadic aunt Hester, Australian-born Laura Fraser inherits a handsome sum, souvenirs of her many adventures in foreign lands, and a taste for life beyond Sydney's borders. She crosses Asia and Europe before landing in London. Her mirror image in the novel is Ravi, a Sri Lankan with roots back to Italian settlers. Ravi learns to use computers, marries and raises a family. For him, travel is all about business and status until an act of political violence compels him to seek asylum in Australia. Ravi's technological savvy suggests new forms of journeying that echo the political and geographical motifs of the book's first half. If the internet changes our characters' freedom to move, then September 11 spins them onto new trajectories. De Kretser is an elegant, intelligent stylist; this is an impressive novel.