Book reviews: Pride and Prejudice gets a suburban Cincinnati reimagining in Eligible
Explore the many-layered world of British fantasy writer Joe Abercrombie, while the Alien series is given a haunting new reading
by Curtis Sittenfeld (read by Cassandra Campbell)
Cassandra Campbell has the sort of name that seems fated to narrate a Jane Austen audiobook. With Eligible she has come close. Curtis Sittenfeld is the latest contemporary novelist (and the first American) to be asked to update Austen 200 years after her works were originally published. Sittenfeld is an ideal choice: Prep, her wonderful school drama, was witty, alert to economic distinctions, romantic and sharply intelligent. Unsurprisingly, Eligible follows suit, translating the Bennets, wealthy Mr Darcy and silly Mr Collins to Cincinnati and a reality TV show that gives the update its title. It’s a light and breezy idea that works better than it has any right to. Darcy is a doctor complaining that Cincinnati is beneath him. Balls have been replaced by barbecues and charades. Elizabeth is a little older than her classic doppelganger and has a terrible boyfriend, but her family are still enjoyable trouble: an unwell father, absent sister, and nest of very silly sisters. The brisk prose and preponderance of dialogue is a joy for a good audiobook reader. Campbell, like Sittenfeld herself, doesn’t overdo it, drawling the ironic, knowing tone and having fun with rat-a-tat-tat exchanges. Mrs Bennet is infuriatingly snooty. I loved the prim Mary and the slangy Lydia. Most agreeable.
by Joe Abercrombie
Sharp Ends is, as its subtitle reveals, a collection of stories gathered from “The World of the First Law”. If this means nothing to you, it will help to explain that this has filled six much-loved fantasy novels by Joe Abercrombie, whose fans include George R.R. Martin. The Circle of the World is complex, brutal and as befits the genre bears more than a passing resemblance to war-torn medieval Europe. At the heart is the Union whose borders are under constant attack by the Gurks, Styria and the Old Empire. All the main characters are represented, some of whom have been published before. The nasty “Made a Monster” zeroes in on barbarian leader Logen Ninefingers. The Union’s damaged torturer Sand dan Glokta puts in a welcome reappearance. The best examples (“Two’s Company”) feature Shevedieh, Styria’s self-anointed greatest thief and her odd couple other half, Javre, self-anointed Lioness of Hoskopp. It goes without saying that this is not the place to enter “The World of the First Law”. To do that begin at the beginning with The Blade Itself. Fans of the series will enjoy these literary equivalents of the DVD extra, though like all those commentaries and blooper reels, the results are mixed. More First Law is promised, so get cracking.
Alien: Out of the Shadows
by Tim Lebbon (read by various)
Alien: Out of the Shadows has a great audiobook tagline: “In space no one can hear you scream. At Audible they can.” Tim Lebbon adapts his own extension of the mostly brilliant Alien series with a fully dramatised reading. First among equals is Blade Runner’s Rutger Hauer, no stranger to science fiction at its best. The main parts are played by Matthew Lewis, Corey Johnson and audiobook star Laurel Lefkow. The story is set not long before the second movie, Aliens. A series of terrible accidents, some of which involve the monster that gestates inside humans and has acid for blood, ends with a space-sleeping Ripley colliding with Chief Engineer Hooper, who leads efforts to mine precious tremonite on the planet LV-178. The collision course that really matters is between the now characteristic small band of brothers and the aliens left on board mining ship, the Marion. There are some impressive sound effects and an atmospheric soundtrack. Laurel Lefkow convinces as Ripley: haunted when narrating the background, disoriented and scared upon waking and intense when the monsters appear. Hauer does well as the spooky, ambiguous robot Ash whispering in Ripley’s ears and holding the secrets everyone needs. The greatest triumph is how director Dirk Maggs insinuates the aliens without being able to show them.