Book reviews: new fiction by David Mitchell, Erica Jong and Tess Gerritsen
Mitchell creates another phantasmagoric vision, Jong rages against mortality, and Gerritsen composes the sound of possession
by David Mitchell (read by Thomas Judd and Tania Rodrigues)
Last year’s The Bone Clocks was bewildering in all senses of the word – a swirling, time-travelling tornado that swept up everything in its path: literature, war, good, evil, realism, fantasy and myth. It was fun and confusing, deep and determinedly shallow. Slade House feels like a rat leaving that sinking ship, a sliced-up novella that began its life on Twitter. Throwing off the constraints of 140 characters, we get a drug-fuelled vision of the sort that ended The Bone Clocks. As in the best of Mitchell’s works, characters, plots and motifs cycle, repeat and alter before our eyes. At the centre is Nathan, who in 1979 attends a (Slade) house party, heads towards the attic and, like so many characters in The Bone Clocks, enters a phantasmagorical realm. This same journey will be played and replayed in subsequent sections until the twist in October 2015. Thomas Judd reads teen Nathan and the cartoonishly intolerant cop Gordon a tad too enthusiastically, making Mitchell’s wordiness and souped-up diction feel, well, souped-up. Tania Rodrigues also doesn’t hold back, which leaves it to the plot to keep you going, but only just.
Fear of Dying
by Erica Jong (read by Suzanne Toren)
Audible Studios (audiobook)
The title of Erica’s Jong’s new novel harks back to her 1973 classic, Fear of Flying, which introduced the world to the unfettered observations of her heroine, Isadora Wing, including the liberating but elusive “zipless f***”: “It is free of ulterior motives ... The man is not ‘taking’ and the woman is not ‘giving’.” In the follow-up, Isadora has retired from sexual life but becomes a sort of Obi-Wan Kenobi to Vanessa Wonderman, middle-aged, rampant and caught in a sexless marriage. Full of life, she is also facing death, through her parents and the generation they embody, and her own increasing awareness of impending mortality: “I hate, hate, hate getting older,” she writes in a typical rage against the dying of the light. Suzanne Toren sounds perfect, weathered but sprightly, imaginative and self-obsessed. She reads the death scenes of Vanessa’s parents with tenderness but also humour, which only makes them more vivid. It is not always a comfortable read, but Jong retains the verve that made the world fall for her in the first place.
Playing with Fire
by Tess Gerritsen (read by Julia Whelan and Will Damron)
Brilliance Audio (audiobook)
Tess Gerritsen has become one of crime fiction’s biggest stars thanks to her enduring double-act, Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr Maura Isles. Yet she has always had other strings to her bow. Playing with Fire shuttles in time between a horror story set in contemporary America, and Italy under the Fascists during the second world war. In the present day, a brilliant violinist (Julia Ansdell) visits Rome where she buys a piece of music called Incendio. When she plays it, her three-year-old seems to become possessed, killing the family cat and attempting to murder Julia. This is spliced with the story of another violinist, Lorenzo Todesco, who is entering a prestigious competition with the love of his life, cellist Laura Balboni. The backdrop of Mussolini’s atrocities inject chills into an already chilly tale. Readers will already suspect that the strange music Lorenzo writes has something to do with Lily’s murderous transformation. Julia Whelan is fine until she attempts a male voice, and then she sounds a little possessed herself.