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E-books and audiobooks

Book reviews: new audiobook fiction from Choderlos de Laclos, Jane Austen (sort of), and Stephen Moss

A thesp-heavy reading of Les Liasons Dangereuses, a zombified Austen, and a self-published alien-invasion melodrama are this week’s recommendations

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 February, 2016, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 February, 2016, 9:00pm

Les Liaisons Dangereuses

by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
(read by various)

Audible Studios (audiobook)

London’s renowned Donmar Warehouse is currently staging a production of Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, which Stephen Frears memorably filmed with Michelle Pfeiffer, John Malkovich and Glenn Close in 1988. The stellar cast, including Dominic West and Janet McTeer, has been commissioned to read the original 18th-century novel, considered in its time to be as scandalous as the Marquis de Sade’s works. De Laclos charts the Vicomte de Valmont’s attempts to seduce the pure Madame de Tourvel, and thereby prove purity itself a corruptible illusion. It is debatable whether the book is louche entertainment or ethical meditation. West certainly sounds pretty louche as Valmont, whether plotting de Tourvel’s downfall or singing the praises of Cécile de Volanges. McTeer steals the show as the dastardly Marquise de Merteuil, who intrigues as if her life depends upon it, which by the end it almost does. Elaine Cassidy has perhaps the toughest job as the innocent de Tourvel, but carries it off while breaking your heart. Great text, fine actors and excellent performances. A shame it’s so short.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (read by Katherine Kellgren)

Audible Studios (audiobook)

When Seth-Grahame Smith inserted flesh-eating zombies into Jane Austen’s classic comedy of romance and manners, it came over as an enjoyably subversive one-joke wonder. The release of a movie version shows just how far one joke can travel in the 21st century. The mash-up is more easily quoted than explained: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” Apparently Grahame-Smith worked until 3am reworking lines like this. It does prompt the question – what was he doing besides using find/replace to change words like “agreeable” to “zombie”. I’ll admit I smiled now and then: “The business of Mr Bennet’s life was to keep his daughters alive. The business of Mrs Bennet’s life was to get them married.” The pleasantly posh-sounding Katherine Kellgren reads with a deadpan demeanour and carries the joke for as long as she can, hardly breaking stride at mentions of swords, longbows and flesh-eating. Still, if Austen is turning in her grave, I hope she erupts from it, hunts Grahame-Smith down and chews on his brains.

Fear the Survivors

by Stephen Moss (read by R.C. Bray)

Audible Studios (audiobook)

R.C. Bray became, arguably, the hottest audiobook narrator in the world courtesy of The Martian, Andy Weir’s self-published bestseller. Having rumbled his way dramatically through that version of Robinson Crusoe in space, he now turns his attention to another self-published science fiction epic: the second part of Stephen Moss’ “Fear Saga”. Earth, as so often happens, is awaiting an alien invasion. In part one, it was 11 years off. In part two, the aliens have landed, despite the best efforts of humanity’s smartest and most heavily armed citizens. For now, the threat is limited in size, but no less deadly for that. The enemy threatens various forms of intergalactic terror, bringing rumours of viruses, deadly weapons, treachery and violence. Whatever melodrama is hinted at here is only enhanced by the prose: “he would have fought anyway, because the longer they were alive, the more innocents they could save.” This is meat and drink to Bray, who knows better than most how to give a portentous sentence the once-over. His skill at drama gets you through the battles – and the sense you have read better versions of the same story before.