E-books and audiobook reviews: Anthony Quinn, Paul Theroux, A.M. Homes
by Anthony Quinn
Jonathan Cape (e-book)
Anthony Quinn is an English critic and novelist whose fourth work of fiction takes place in a vividly realised London during an unnamed 1936. Clues are there: the abdication crisis and the climactic events taking place against the Crystal Palace fire of November 30. The story is essentially a five-hander. Suave social portrait painter Stephen Wyley embarks on an affair with actress Nina Land. During their first tryst at the Imperial hotel, Nina saves a prostitute named Madeleine Farewell from a serial killer who has been terrorising London. Quinn adds other players into the mix: James Erskine is a haughty, brilliant and recklessly promiscuous theatre critic, while Tom Tunner is his secretary and amanuensis, always threatening to leave his demanding employer. The quintet criss-crosses in ways that are artful if occasionally convenient. When Wyley falls foul of a Fascist Blackshirt, the fault springs from his own moral laxity and self-attention to the nature of incipient evil. This may be a novel set almost 80 years ago, but Curtain Call has much to teach us today.
Paul Theroux's latest short-story collection is ready for audiobook download. These 20 newish tales are set across the globe, although many return to Theroux's Massachusetts hometown of Medford. There are few home comforts here, however. The titular story is narrated by a young man whose father is transformed - he might say released - by donning "black face" and indulging all of his pent-up fury. There is a similar trajectory for the accountant in Siamese Nights who visits Thailand, falls for a "transvestite" and discovers parts of himself that he never knew existed. Travel broadens the mind of a Theroux character - but not always in positive or healthy ways. In this, the carefully narrated stories double as excavations of Western male rage when confronted by otherness - whether female ( The Furies) or foreign ( Incident in the Oriente). Narrators Garrick Hagon, Jennifer Woodward, Vince Pirillo and Tim Flavin do a fine job catching Theroux's often elusive tone, at once mischievous and seductive.
Music for Torching
by A.M. Homes
(read by Penelope Rawlins)
Whole Story (audiobook)
New to audiobook download, A.M. Homes' fourth novel from 1999 served notice of her talent for savage comedies of modern manners and dysfunctional families. Music for Torching begins where many other stories end: with a conflagration. Homes' opening is fiery indeed, accelerating from the dinner party to end all dinner parties to an absurd kitchen fight which inspires our warring couple Elaine and Paul to torch their house. Sending their two sons to stay with nicely odd friends, Elaine and Paul find their act of mutually assured destruction inspires strange responses. They stay with George and Pat, who prove to be their almost sickening polar opposites. Hardly a second goes past without one of them saying "I love you". Of course, this is all a blind for Homes to expose even stranger behaviour that makes 50 Shades of Grey look like The Wind in the Willows. Penelope Rawlins reads with a nicely robotic sense of understatement that springs into life for the dialogue which she handles with virtuosity.