Audiobook reviews: The Little Friend by Donna Tartt; Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals by Jesse Armstrong; Monolith by Shaun Hutson
The Little Friend
by Donna Tartt
(read by Laurel Lefkow)
Donna Tartt's second novel is probably her least well-known: The Little Friend is sandwiched between her firebrand debut, The Secret History, and the much-debated The Goldfinch, which is either a work of genius or the work of a child, depending on whom you believe. Her 2002 sophomore effort is filtered through the consciousness of 12-year-old Harriet Cleve Dufresnes who attempts to avenge her brother Robin's death a decade before. Harriet was only a baby when, on Mother's Day in a Mississippi town, the nine-year-old boy was found hanged on a tree in their garden. Harriet decides that Robin's killer was his "little friend" Danny Ratliff, who ended up as a meth dealer with a bad reputation. Her reasoning is spurious, fired by emotion rather than proof. The twist arrives when Harriet is seen through Danny's eyes and the tables begin to turn. Laurel Lefkow reads Tartt's nuanced tale of family grief and breakdown with almost annoying stateliness, but her honeyed tones and convincing Southern accents help. A fine book finely read.
Love, Sex & Other Foreign Policy Goals
by Jesse Armstrong
(read by Chris Addison)
Love, Sex & Other Foreign Policy Goals is the first novel by Jesse Armstrong, who wrote hit TV sitcoms such as Peep Show and political satire The Thick of It. Our hero, Andrew, is sort of engaged in world events and desperate to make a difference, mainly to impress a girl. Like many youngish people in the 1990s, he decides a theatrical event is the way forward (a Peace Play), and heads to Bosnia with a group of slightly wealthier and more confident friends. Andrew's motivation is Penny, whose brother Von tags along for sexual kicks of a most exacting sort. The joke is on the players, but Armstrong is never cruel. This is a novel about how experience shows us the limits of what we think, of how "comically distant" yoofs can't always keep a straight face. There is also quite a lot of toilet humour. Chris Addison, who starred in The Thick of It, is the ideal reader. His reedy voice is made for Armstrong's knowing observational wit. Armstrong is funny but also humane. If the novel tires a little, it is only a little.
by Shaun Hutson
(read by Ben Onwukwe)
Shaun Hutson has been specialising in literary nasties for decades now. His recent output has concentrated on novelisations of classic Hammer horrors. Monolith is a comeback of sorts - his first truly "original" work since 2010's Epitaph - and mixes horror with the crime novel and fantasy. Russian billionaire Andrei Voronov, forgoing the usual route of buying a football club, pays for a 43-storey "Crystal Tower" whose construction costs some 70 lives. This grim record attracts the attention of Jessica Anderson, a feisty investigative journalist. What she finds has its gnarled roots in Hitler's rise to power, which look set to spread when Voronov decides to build another carbuncle. Hutson's work hasn't changed much over the years. The chapters are dizzily short, the prose laddish: football teams, camera technology and lots of swearing. Ben Onwukwe runs through a full complement of accents in trying to breathe life into the melodrama. That he does says much for his spirited rendition and also something about Hutson's way with a silly story.