Review: e-books and audiobooks - The Jungle Book, Paper Towns and Andrew O'Hagan

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 September, 2015, 4:52pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 September, 2015, 4:52pm

The Jungle Book:

The Mowgli Stories

by Rudyard Kipling

(read by various)

Audible (audiobook)

I'm not sure how I feel about sound effects in audiobooks. Many now have some form of intro music, either moody or sprightly, but readings accompanied by roaring lions or the sound of a boy shouting "yahooooo" before splashing into water are relatively rare. These examples provide perfect mood music for this dramatised reading of Rudyard Kipling's enduring classic fairy tales, the ones that examine the "bear necessities of life". But whether they augment the text or distract from it is a matter of personal taste. What is beyond argument is the excellent cast of British actors (Richard E. Grant, Celia Imrie and Bill Bailey) who breathe life into tales at once familiar and strange to anyone returning to the source material. Raised by wolves, our "man cub" Mowgli navigates a wild path between the fearful tiger, Shere Khan, some thieving monkeys and witchcraft. I found that the voices, music and sound effects worked well together, providing atmosphere for the sensitive readings.

Paper Towns

by John Green

(read by Dan John Miller)

Brilliance Audio (audiobook)

Paper Towns, the third novel by rising Young Adult author John Green, was first published in 2008 but is reviewed here because of a new movie adaptation starring Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne. Like Green's mega-hit The Fault in Our Stars, it is a love story, not twisted so much as intriguingly skewed. Quentin Jacobsen (known as Q) has adored his friend, Margo Roth Spiegelman, from a distance. One night, just before the pair graduate from high school, Margo climbs through his bedroom window and declares war on all those who have hurt her in some fashion. The pair join forces, inflicting embarrassment on naked ex-boyfriends, mean supposed friends and nasty bullies. There are hints of Holden Caulfield in Margo's condemnation of their fake "paper town", but when she vanishes, we wonder just who this heroine is. So does Q, who tries to find her in hope of saving her life. Dan John Miller sounds like a friendly chap, but reads with a jerkiness that I found unsettling.


The Illuminations

by Andrew O'Hagan

Faber and Faber (e-book)

The next stop on my route through the Man Booker longlist is Andrew O'Hagan's The Illuminations, a rich, surprising and frequently moving meditation on war, art, love and family. It is a two-hander between Luke, a young army captain serving in the Royal Western Fusiliers in Afghanistan, and his grandmother, Anne Quirk, a pioneering war photographer in the 1960s who, as the novel opens, is battling Alzheimer's disease, loneliness and obscurity in Scotland. Her main contact with the present is Maureen, the nurse who cares for her. Anne's extraordinary past is largely narrated through her fractured perceptions. This inevitably elliptical voice is intercut with Luke's plainer but no less compelling descriptions of his humdrum but terrifying existence. O'Hagan eventually brings the pair together, as Luke attempts to negotiate his return home and Anne revisits a secret episode from the past. A fabulous, powerful and utterly convincing novel, blessed with vibrant prose and acute insights.