E- and audiobook reviews: Fiction, by James Kidd
by Philip Pullman
(read by Bill Nighy)
The Collectors is an audiobook-only short story by Philip Pullman and read by British actor Bill Nighy. It begins during a conversation between Hawley and Grinstead, sitting in the gloomy common room of an Oxford college after a meagre dinner. The subject is a painting sold to Hawley. We slowly learn, as the chatter amiably unwinds, that there are hints of something wicked about the portrait. The woman is sat with a "most extraordinarily ambiguous expression: one moment she looks cold, disdainful, contemptuous even. And then the next, on fire with a sort of lost and hopeless and yet somehow very sexy yearning." The painter's daughter wished the portrait had been destroyed. The woman is his arch villain, Marisa Coulter. Her "spirit" animal, a monkey, is sculpted in bronze with a look of "savage greed and brutality". The artworks have followed each other through history, and the story examines their eerie relationship. Nighy reads with his usual relaxed tones, which highlight the humour in Pullman's depiction of college life and the unsettling provenance of Coulter and her "daemon".
by Thomas Pynchon
(read by Joanna Newsom)
There are only two audiobooks of Thomas Pynchon's work, at least for download: Against the Day and the classic The Crying of Lot 49. Inherent Vice is a soundtrack, largely composed by Radiohead's multi-instrumental genius Jonny Greenwood, with other work by Can, Neil Young and Kyu Sakamoto. On two tracks it is hard to miss the dulcet tones of singular singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom intoning Pynchon's prose - she provides voiceover on the film itself. The tracks are Spooks, which began life as a sub-Pixies pastiche by Radiohead, and also the distinctly Pynchonesque Under the Paving Stones, the Beach! Newsom's lovely, slightly squeaky voice almost sings Pynchon's winding words on Spooks, getting the swing of his hipster beat prose, and helped by Greenwood's ominous guitar runs, and later the slow build of brass. On Under the Paving Stones, Newsom whispers "Dopers ESP, Doc" against Greenwood's guitar in ways William Burroughs would have approved. If this is anything to go by Inherent Vice should be wonderful.
Tom Clancy: Full Force and Effect
by Mark Greaney
(read by Scott Brick)
Bestselling series no longer die with their authors, but continue via ghostwriters into the future. After the recent resurrections of Hercule Poirot, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, there is no reason to bid farewell to the all-action President Jack Ryan. Indeed, Clancy's name is well above that of Mark Greaney, who keeps the flame. As often happens in classic Clancy ( The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games), a strange event beyond America's borders has an impact on domestic life and policy. This happens in Asia: a missile is fired from North Korea, seemingly at Japan. This whizzes around a murder in Vietnam and the theft of top secret documents. While Ryan ponders the political ramifications, his son, the imaginatively named Jack Ryan Jnr, goes into gung-ho action with The Campus squad. There is some exciting action with motorbike assassins, some slightly mad demonising of North Korea's apocalyptic intentions, and lots of macho intelligence work. Tom Clancy may be dead, but long live Tom Clancy Jnr.