Reviews: e-books and audiobooks by Tom Drury, Gregory Maguire and Vanessa Tait

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 November, 2015, 12:26am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 November, 2015, 12:26am

by Tom Drury
Old Street Publishing (e-book)

Tom Drury is fast becoming my favourite living American writer. Forget Jonathan Franzen or even Don DeLillo, Drury's funny, meandering and constantly surprising prose makes me laugh, cry and think. Pacific is the third of his Grouse County novels and the third to be republished by the small, astute Old Street Press. The End of Vandalism and Hunts in Dreams followed the quietly dramatic lives of the ne'er-do-well Charles "Tiny" Darling, his unsettled wife, Joan Gower, and their children, Micah and Lyris. Returning too are Dan Norman and wife Louise, who suffered heartbreaking loss in The End of Vandalism. All the characters face age and change. Dan and Louise have new jobs. Joan has left Tiny and made a success of herself as an actress in LA. As Pacific starts Micah joins her. Grouse County is assaulted by a strange, sword-wielding woman, Sandra Zulma, who thinks herself a goddess and adds mythic dimensions to the narrative. But the star of the show is Drury's wry wit.


After Alice
by Gregory Maguire (read by Katherine Kellgren)
Headline (audiobook)

November 26 marks the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Gregory Maguire clearly has a thing for re-imagining classics. He wrote Wicked, the musical inspired by The Wizard of Oz. After Alice is the latest of many re-castings: Jeff Noon's Automated Alice turned Carroll into sci-fi; Shen Congwen relocated Alice to 1928 China. Maguire transforms Carroll's fantasia into a hymn for missing children. Ada Boyce, who is briefly alluded to in the original, follows her friend into Wonderland. While she encounters the familiar faces - the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and the Cheshire Cat - the Boyces and Liddells confront the loss of their daughters. It is sometimes hard to tell which world is more absurd, the real or imagined, as Charles Darwin mixes with teen romance. Katherine Kellgren reads with stentorian grace. This suits Maguire's style, which can be grandiose: "Oxford at matins can seem to congeal through the fogs, a process of accretion through light." Well, quite.


The Looking Glass House
by Vanessa Tait
(read by Melody Grove)
Whole Story Audiobooks

The second Alice-inspired novel this week comes from a source closer to our heroine's home. Vanessa Tait is the great-granddaughter of Alice Liddell, who inspired Lewis Carroll's original story. Tait is not the first to examine the source material. Katie Roiphe's She Still Haunts Me is one of several fictional retellings of a relationship which has caused controversy and heated debate. Much of this centres on dark accusations of paedophilia and the relationship between 10-year-old Alice and Lewis Carroll, real name Charles Dodgson. Tait focuses not on Alice or Dodgson but Mary Prickett, who became the Liddells' governess in 1862 and who would later inspire the terrifying Red Queen in Wonderland, "the concentrated essence of all governesses". Melody Grove's Mary sounds more awe-struck than forbidding. She reads Tait's atmospheric prose well, and does fine voices - above all the grandiose matriarch, Lorina. Wonderful.