E- and audiobook reviews: Graham Greene, David Baldacci, Ian Caldwell
Colin Firth gives a wonderful reading of Greene's The End of The Affair
The End of the Affair
by Graham Greene
(read by Colin Firth)
The craze of A-list narrators picks up pace with actor Colin Firth's award-winning meeting with Graham Greene in a recording studio. As the cover makes clear, he is not reading The End of the Affair, he "performs" it - which is a bit like saying I am not writing this review, I am dramatising it. Originally published in 1951, the novel excavates the affair between hack novelist Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles, riffing on Greene's own illicit wartime romance with Catherine Walston. For Bendrix, love equals obsession. Sarah, meanwhile, is wracked by the betrayal of her husband. Told in vivid flashbacks, Greene's narrative slowly gets to the heart of the matter: the reason, after Bendrix is almost killed in the blitz, Sarah rejects him for good. As so often in Greene, the erotic and the sacred do battle for a human's soul. Firth is perfectly suited to Bendrix's combination of passion and restraint, triteness and truth, duty and chaos. Melancholy lingers beneath the cool familiarity of his tones, a perfect match for Greene's meditation on breakdown - marital, psychic and national. Wonderful.
by David Baldacci
(read by Ron McLarty and Orlagh Cassidy)
David Baldacci juggles several hit series at the same time, producing the sort of punchy if forgettable thrillers that make any journey speed by a little faster. Memory Man adds a new hero to his roster: former American football star Amos Decker. Injured in the line of duty, Decker loses a lucrative career but gains a photographic memory. This first case establishes him as a version of John Connolly's Charlie Parker. Having lost his livelihood, Decker all but loses the will to live when his wife, daughter and brother-in-law are murdered. Then three years later - following suicidal thoughts, a spell on the streets, an unsuccessful foray as a private detective - a prime suspect is discovered. Baldacci's regular audiobook duo, Ron McLarty and Orlagh Cassidy, generate nice contrasts and pleasant sparks with their reading. Helped by some ominous mood music, McLarty sounds as if he is reciting the grave warnings on medicine bottles. Cassidy's evocative tones take on Mary Lancaster, Decker's former police partner, who I hope will be a long-term partner.
The Fifth Gospel
by Ian Caldwell
(read by Jack Davenport)
The second celebrity narrator this week is Jack Davenport. A cut-glass English actor not unlike Colin Firth, he is probably best known for his posh turn in Pirates of the Caribbean. Unlike Firth, his material is the sort that Dan Brown knocks out in his sleep. A hotly anticipated exhibition, whose star attraction is a purported "fifth gospel", is thrown into chaos by the murder of its curator. In true Brownian motion, the lost gospel holds a secret that not only threatens the Catholic Church but the very future of mankind itself (a sentence best read with ominous background music). The heart of the novel is the story of the Turin Shroud, which is investigated by an odd couple: Catholic priest Simon Andreou and his brother (and our narrator) Alex, of the Orthodox Church. Davenport reads lines such as "In the blueprint of how we became the men we are, that is where I locate the foundation" with commitment. Many of his sentences dip at the end to suggest gravitas and/or mystery, but even the deepest plunge can't convince me this tale is more than silly fun at best.