Reviews: fiction e-books and audiobooks: Salman Rushdie, Sebastian Faulks and Vendela Vida

A nameless heroine mending a broken heart in Casablanca, a light and rapid good-versus-evil fantasy, and a damaged Dunkirk veteran make up this week's mixed bag

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 October, 2015, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 October, 2015, 9:00pm

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty
by Vendela Vida
Atlantic (e-book)

Vendela Vida’s latest novel is unusual in several ways. For one, it is narrated in the second person: “You shrug, as though you have been enjoying a story and have no concern of intrigue as to why you are being told this story”. This means the tone – of loss and becoming lost – remains both enjoyable and intriguing, at once intimate and disorienting. For another, its heroine is never named. Arriving in Casablanca to escape a long unmentioned trauma, she adopts any number of identities – ranging from her niece (Reeves) to Aretha Franklin. Having lost the backpack containing her passport, money and laptop, our heroine adopts another woman’s name, is employed as a stand-in for a famous American actress on a movie being shot in her hotel and ends up running off with a press pack into Morocco. Beneath this fizzy absurdity is a considered exploration of identity, gender and surviving a broken heart. All this and a guest appearance from Patti Smith. A fantastic, funny and intelligent delight.


Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights
by Salman Rushdie (read by Robert G. Slade)
Random House (audiobooks)

Narrator of thrillers Robert G. Slade is not, perhaps, the first person you would think of to voice a new novel by Salman Rushdie. Yet here he is faced with Rushdie’s latest attempt (as the title re-calculates) to shake up A Thousand and One Nights for a new millennium. Rushdie’s is a make-believe world split into good and evil. The split pits (crudely) Isis against the forces of secular, rational thinking. As with the original, tale chases tale chases tale. There are magical babies, striving artists, and terrorists. In short, this zesty metafiction is a real test of Mr G Slade’s narration. His (American) voice is sprightly, full of expression and reasonable enough to convince you of spirits who turn into dragons or “slide into human beings through the nose, or eyes” and are highly sexed enough to make Hugh Hefner breathless. In short, he is near perfect for this light and rapid fantasy that entertains without ever quite changing your world.


Where My Heart Used to Beat
by Sebastian Faulks (read by David Sibley)
Random House (audiobooks)

Sebastian Faulks has been turning war into slickly serious fiction for decades now. His most famous book remains Birdsong whose potent blend of violence, sex and, well, France are replayed in this story whose origins lie in the first world war but whose central events occur in the subsequent global conflict. Our narrator is Robert Hendricks, a veteran of Dunkirk who went on to become a respected neuroscientist. Early in the action, after a rather tawdry New York night with a call girl, he is invited to visit Alexander Pereira in Cannes. A fellow neuroscientist, he declares that he served with Hendricks’ father in the “Great War”. The encounter shuttles between the two men’s pasts. David Sibley reads the ultra-rational, yet damaged Hendricks with just the right tone – somewhere between detached interest and a wonder at his own actions. He is excellent when describing the shock of the war, and sensitive when dramatising the central conversation between Faulks’ Faulksy male leads.