E-books/audiobooks review: fiction
The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
(read by Jake Gyllenhaal)
Australian director Baz Luhrmann's film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel about ambition, materialist success, identity, romantic obsession and failure is one of the most hotly anticipated movies of the year. Besides reading Fitzgerald's silky, sinuous prose on the page, you can now prepare yourself with this audiobook read by Jake Gyllenhaal. So smooth, cool and balanced is the Academy Award nominee's narration that it begs the question: why wasn't he chosen to play Nick Carraway instead of Tobey Maguire? His voice mellifluously conveys the beautiful rhythms of Fitzgerald's unsurpassed writing yet is supple enough to capture Carraway's satirical amusement at the doings of his cousin, Daisy, and her brutish husband, Tom Buchanan, and the weary melancholy of his grand disillusion - embodied by the titular Jay Gatsby, whose love for Daisy inspires the grandest of illusions. My only gripe is that Gyllenhaal doesn't quite capture the famously elegiac ending, both defiant and deflated. And the crashing piano doesn't help.
The Ides of April
by Lindsey Davis
Hodder & Stoughton
Lindsey Davis is celebrated for her wonderful detective series set in a fabulously realised ancient Rome. Her hero, Marcus Didius Falco, is sharp and funny, but the books aren't just played for laughs: they are founded on rigorous research. The same, painstaking desire is evident in this new series, set in the Rome of Emperor Domitian, and starring Falco's adopted daughter, Flavia Albia. Discussing the Romans she sees every day, the 28-year-old transplanted Briton observes with cool, dry detachment: "At least they had a history. They knew their origins, which is more than I could say." Like all classic private eyes, Flavia is an outsider, living alone and in defiance of her city's mores. Like Falco, she is clever, sardonic and rebellious. In the age of Domitian, when paranoia is the norm, these can be dangerous virtues. In this addictive opening episode, Flavia investigates a series of seemingly random murders - and faster than you can say "Ave Caesar" she is battling police and politicians as she tries to get to the heart of the matter.
by Jeff Noon
(read by Dean Williamson)
Amazing though it seems, Jeff Noon's classic work of speculative, cyber-punk science fiction is 20 years old. Set in a vibrantly re-imagined Manchester, this is a story of obsessive love, imaginative addiction, escapism and friendship, all told with the purplest of prose. That Noon carries it off says much for the world he creates so effectively. The titular Vurt is a feather which enables people to experience visionary hallucinations. Different feathers enable different dreams - some dangerous. Our damsel in distress is Desdemona, trapped in one such trip. Her brother Scribble, who loves her rather unlike a brother, has been trying to rescue her in his own inimitable fashion, helped by a band of rebellious pleasure-seekers all of whom are trying to evade lives of conformity and oppression. Dean Williamson's heavy Mancunian tones may take a little getting used to, but they are ideally suited to the dancehall rhythms of Noon's writing. Here's a modern classic that hasn't aged a day.