The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness; Hothouse by Brian Aldiss; Long Live the King by Fay Weldon
The Crane Wife
by Patrick Ness
Before Patrick Ness conquered the world as a "young adult" author with his game-changing Chaos Walking trilogy and beautiful A Monster Calls, he wrote strange, scurrilous fiction for adults. The Crane Wife, then, isn't so much a departure as a return, comprising a story about grown-ups seemingly for them as well. Our hero George Duncan's unobtrusive life is interrupted when a crane falls into his garden, wounded by an arrow; this acts as the catalyst for Ness' plot that shuttles elegantly between the visionary and the naturalistic. George takes care of the crane until it can fly away. The next day a woman, Kumiko, appears. George falls in love, romantically and creatively. The pair collaborate on cutting paper shapes that not only make them famous, but which resound in the structure of this narrative. It unfolds elegantly through doubles, echoes and repeated motifs. Inspired by a Japanese fairytale (and possibly an album by The Decemberists), The Crane Wife is about love, redemption and creation.
by Brian Aldiss
(read by Nick Boulton)
Master of science fiction Brian Aldiss is rumoured to be on the verge of retirement, with a final novel due out later this year. New to audio download, Hothouse, an award-winning anthology published in 1962, comprises five novellas whose theme of global warming feels eerily prescient. The earth's rotation has stopped, exposing one hemisphere to the sun's unremitting glare. This has created new, often startling ecologies. Plants have developed eyes and vast canopies, whose shade has made many animals extinct and reduced humans to half their former size. A tribe escapes the ever-expanding forest by climbing the highest trees. Discovering they can fly, these Flymen attempt to retrieve the youngest humans. This Homeric tale includes seductive Sirens, a vast iceberg, a new Eden and, of course, adventures on the dark side of the planet. Nick Boulton narrates humankind on the brink of destruction with considered, atmospheric gravity. His collected narrative voice convinces even as Aldiss leads us into his surreal imaginative world. Brilliant, exciting but sobering too.
Long Live the King
by Fay Weldon
(read by Rula Lenska)
If you loved Upstairs Downstairs or Downton Abbey, you will enjoy this cut-glass comedy of manners. Set early in the 20th century, this is the sequel to Habits of the House. Weldon's plot alternates between the aristocratic Dilberne family and their staff, who attempt to behave as badly as their masters. Everyone is transfixed by the forthcoming coronation of the soon-to-be Edward VII. Arthur, the heir of the Dilbernes, has rescued his family by marrying Minnie: on the plus side, she's rich; on the minus, she's American. While Minnie attempts to ignore the snipes of her English family and also provide an heir, Lord Robert's sister, Rosina, promotes the feminist cause, while his niece, Adela, runs off with spiritualists. Then Robert meets Consuelo Vanderbilt who throws his marriage and the family's future into doubt. Rula Lenska's warm, sensual tones are made for vibrant soap operas like this; she even breathes life into boring Robert. Long Live the King is fun and gripping enough that I await part three with anticipation.