Reviews: E-books and audiobooks - Patrick Gale, Rudyard Kipling
A Place Called Winter
by Patrick Gale
Bestselling novelist Patrick Gale is best known for excellent books such as Notes from an Exhibition and A Perfectly Good Man, his forte being contemporary stories, often set in Cornwall and concerned with inner lives and hidden sexuality. A Place Called Winter is a departure: the novel is not only exported to Canada but rewinds to the early years of the 20th century. Gale's hero is Harry Cane, who is both freed and trapped by his social and financial inheritance, which maps his life in exacting detail. His shyness hints at a secret, which begins to be exposed when he falls in love with another man. When his wife's family finds out, Harry is exiled to rural Canada, which frees and entraps him in whole new ways. Gale reads his own words with verve. What he lacks as an actor - his dialogue sounds eerily like his narration - he makes up for as a precise and sensitive interpreter of his elegant, vivid prose. The scene in which Harry is forced to endure electroshock therapy to "cure" him of his sexuality will live long in the mind. Humane, moving and rather beautiful.
Look Who’s Back
by Timur Vermes
(read by Julian
Never judge a book by its cover? Not in the case of Timur Vermes' Look Who's Back, a whimsical satire on Adolf Hitler's celebrity in his homeland. That famous head and facial hair incorporate Vermes' title and hints at the cartoonish mood within. It is 2011, and Der Fuehrer wakes up in a Germany almost unrecognisable from the one he all but destroyed. "My first thought was, 'What did I get up to last night?'" The novel is full of smart if obvious gags like this, including the central plot device. This has Hitler becoming a de facto star as the greatest Hitler impersonator of all time. Parts of his character are suddenly hip: his vegetarianism, for example. Others - his anti-Semitism - are less cool. There is a smart joke when an executive reminds him the "Jews are no laughing matter", a threat he misunderstands as a slight. Julian Rhind-Tutt wisely doesn't overdo the impersonation - the novel is narrated in the first person, not the Third Reich. This allows the seriousness of Vermes' comedy to breathe and keeps the slight monotony from overwhelming.
Just So Stories
by Rudyard Kipling
(read by Samuel West)
The 13 fables in Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories for Little Children can be described as origin tales, which explain how a particular animal has come to be the strange way it is. Here, we, the "Best Beloved", learn "How the Whale Got His Throat", the camel his hump, and the leopard his spots. The answers: the whale, bruised after swallowing a cantankerous mariner, decides to eat only tiny fish. The lazy camel, who spits "Humph" whenever he's asked to work, is literally puffed up by an avenging desert djinn. The leopard, tired of failing to eat enough giraffes, misunderstands the word spot (meaning place) and learns the value of camouflage. My favourite is the explanation for the frankly ludicrous armadillo. Kipling's answer sounds eerily like a joke: what do you get if you cross a "Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog" with his friend, "a Slow-Solid Tortoise"? British actor and director Samuel West reads these lively sketches with smooth and studied understatement. His elegant tones highlight Kipling's dry wit and considerable charm.