E-books/audiobooks review: fiction
by Edward Rutherfurd
read by Jane Wymark, Jonathan Keeble
Edward Rutherfurd writes epic, readable, character-driven historical fiction with a vibrant sense of place. His 2009 breakthrough novel, New York, was preceded by two books set in Ireland and three in England - including another capital city tale, London. Paris displays many of the "oh-la-la" narrative tropes one would expect. A struggling artist, Marc Blanchard, possesses good looks and a labyrinthine love life. There are aristocrats (the de Cygnes) and working-class lefties (the Le Sourds), there are war, betrayal, revolution and student riots. Weaving in and out of these made-up tales, which stretch across centuries, are many of Paris' famous cliques and inhabitants: from Robespierre via Hemingway's demi-monde to Coco Chanel. The book is long enough and broad enough to require two narrators. Jonathan Keeble reads with lofty respect for Rutherfurd's grander themes. Jane Wymark's voice is more intimate and - dare I say it? - more romantic. A fine team for an enjoyable slice of storytelling.
by Courtney Collins
Allen and Unwin
The Burial is a debut novel by Courtney Collins, an Australian writer and, if her biography is to be believed, grave-digger. Indeed, death haunts almost every page of his earthy story, set in 1921, about a young woman running for her life through the Outback - from the title and opening page (a "Prelude to Death") to the final, heart-stopping paragraphs. Our heroine is Jessie, who has seen more and done more in 26 years than most of us accomplish in four score. Having worked at a circus, riding horses, she rustled cattle and landed in prison, from which she escapes. What makes The Burial both striking and deeply unsettling is the narrative point of view. Jessie's ascent up a mountain, pursued by furious lawmen, her lover and a sergeant, is narrated by her own dead child, who has had her throat slit and been buried in the soil: "Down here I have come to know two things: birds fall down and dirt can wait. Eventually, teeth and skin and twists of bone will all be given up to it." The Burial is an extraordinary debut.
The Return by Victoria Hislop
read by Jane WymarkHeadline
Victoria Hislop's fiction, which includes bestsellers such as The Island, is a candidate for my just-invented genre: Intelligent Beach. Her elegant, accessible prose and characterisation are perfect for lazy, long summer days. But Hislop's writing has a depth and a darkness that will have you pondering her fiction long after the sunburn fades. Set before, during and after the Spanish Civil War, The Return centres on the Ramirez family, whose vexed history is related to a rather sad, lonely 35-year-old called Sonia. The war splits the Ramirez clan in two. Set initially on Grenada, we follow Mercedes as she pursues her first love, a guitar player called Javier, who is fighting Franco in Malaga. Mercedes' brother, meanwhile, is fighting for the republic in Madrid and Barcelona. Both Hislop and the prolific Jane Wymark, who narrates this new audiobook, are strongest during war-time Spain. The only weak spot is Sonia's framing narrative, which feels like a half-hearted attempt to make the past relevant.