Reviews: e-books and audiobooks - Paul Murray, Louis de Bernieres and Ramez Naam
Do some novels work better read rather than heard? I ask because I both read and listened to The Mark and the Void, the third novel by Irish writer Paul Murray, whose Skippy Dies was one of my favourites of recent years. This is international banking, but not as we know it. Our hero is a troubled Irish banker driven to success by a father who immediately resented his achievements. Returning from Paris to Dublin, he works for the extraordinary Bank of Torabundo, which survived 2008's global crash only to be taken over by the ruthlessly amoral Porter Blankly. If the bounce of Murray's prose makes the audiobook a dream, then the metafictional game proves a distraction. There is a writer-character called Paul ("Idea for a novel: we have a banker rob his own bank") and a less-than-subtle French philosopher who has written a study called (attendez vous) La Marque et Le Vide (vraiment). This self-conscious layer definitely suits the eye better than the ear.
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray (read by Charlie Anson) Penguin Audio (audiobook)
In similar vein to Sebastian Faulks and the rather better William Boyd, Louis de Bernières offers epic historical fiction with a hint of something peculiar. His big hit, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, blended love, war and, well, mandolins. De Bernières' new and ninth novel does much the same, albeit in a different period. Opening in England before the first world war, it serves up three families linked by friendship, geography and an infant love triangle involving the nicely judged Ashbridge, Daniel and Rosie, whose fortunes we follow through the war: Daniel becomes a flyer, Rosie volunteers as a nurse and Ashbridge joins the artillery. The bulk of the story occupies the post-war fallout as the fairly vast cast come to terms with loss and restoration. David Sibley and Avita Jay do a good job of bringing de Bernières' endlessly star-crossed characters to life. The feeling remains, however, that there is rather too much calm and not enough storm.
The Dust that Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernières (read by Avita Jay, David Sibley) Random House Audiobooks
This is the concluding part of a science fiction epic by an Egyptian-born former Microsoft techno-whizz who has written two non-fiction books about the intersection of the natural, human and technological. Naam's Nexus trilogy explores similar ideas. Nexus is the sort of hi-tech drug found in high-concept thrillers: basically, it networks otherwise separate minds. After its creator, Kaden Lane, is forced to hand over his invention to a bunch of nasty government types, all hell breaks loose. This is pretty much Apex's story. Nexus has spread, enhancing or possibly degrading the humans who take it. In China, genetically modified protesters besiege Shanghai's Jiao Tong University calling for democracy. If the characters are a little cardboard, that is because Apex is a novel of ideas and moral quandaries. Stephanie Canon has the sort of voice that might deliver the four-minute warning or give you satnav directions - perfect for this intelligent if somewhat dry work.
Apex by Ramez Naam (read by Stephanie Canon) Audible Studios (audiobook)