Booker’s recently announced Long List this year has garnered much praise for its variety and boldness, and provides plenty for the audio-loving listener. Here are two of the best, with more reviews to come before the price announcement in October.
Audrey Magee The colony (Faber, 8:28) presents any narrator with a formidable challenge; the terse dialogue and staccato interior monologue of the text are frequently reflected in the book’s printed layout, so there may be only a few words per line.
Here, for example, is an extract from the opening section of the novel, in which the English painter, Mr Lloyd, is transported by currach to the small island off the west coast of Ireland on which the story, rowing in the:
Atlantic Ocean, in the strange, the unknown
the calls of the coxswains
muscular shoulders, tanned skin
sunglasses, caps and more
How do you put such a passage into voice, especially when elsewhere there are multi-voiced conversations, or dense descriptive paragraphs, and when all speakers of English, French and Irish Gaelic appear?
Narrator Stephen Hogan, an experienced actor who has also won awards for his work in audiobooks, takes a surprisingly heavy-handed approach to the task; his voice, especially when inhabiting the irascible and cunning Lloyd, sounds almost tight, relaxing as he depicts the islanders gathering over bread and jam or, as we get to know the other summer visitor to the community, turning into a terse French academic.
Set in 1979, the novel periodically focuses on brief reports of Irish National Liberation Army and Irish Republican Army atrocities taking place ashore, and Hogan conveys them in a way that makes them seem, as they are, almost unimaginably far away.
Also on Booker’s long list is Percival Everett’s Trees (Tantor Audio, 7 h 43 min), and we are again immersed in different lives that must find a way to live together within a small community.
Here we are in Money, Mississippi, witnessing a series of gruesome and brutal murders: white men from long-established working-class families are discovered with their necks encircled with barbed wire, their testicles ripped out and the corpses of a black man nearby. The plot thickens when, shortly after the bodies are transferred to the morgue, the black man’s corpse disappears.
What initially appears to be a relatively straightforward detective story quickly reveals other layers, including connections between current events and the real-life murder of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African American who was abducted, shot and lynched in 1955. , and whose white killers were acquitted.
Bill Andrew Quinn – again, an experienced and acclaimed storyteller – is called upon to not only animate a wide range of characters, from sprawling families to out-of-town sheriffs and detectives they immediately hate, but to work with Everett’s captivating changes in Ton.
As unlikely as it may seem, a large part of Trees is very funny, focusing on the humor present in the misunderstandings and mistrust between its characters, and demonstrating how this humor is often used to defuse racial tensions – and Quinn brings warmth and laughter to these sections, deftly undermining them when the horrors of race violence and bigotry emerge. (Note: the text and audio versions contain repeated use of racial slurs.)
If you’re in the mood for suspense, I thoroughly enjoyed Lisa Jewell’s one The family stays (Penguin Audio, 11:14 a.m.), which revisits characters from its previous thriller The family upstairsa pleasantly convoluted tale that revolves around a house on Cheyne Walk in Chelsea and a family infiltrated by a manipulative crook and cult leader.
It’s worth listening to the old book first, although it’s not essential; otherwise, you can just join Detective Inspector Samuel Owusu, voiced by Hugh Quarshie, as he investigates the discovery of a mudlark: a small human skull discovered on the Thames foreshore. With a cast that also includes Eleanor Tomlinson – who played Demelza in the TV series Poldark – it’s a meandering escapist track that makes good use of the interplay of voices and parameters. It’s one of those mysteries that works well on a long vacation trip, even if, God forbid, you’re stuck in a queue at the airport or port.
Equally entertaining is Ruth Ware’s The It Girl (Simon & Schuster Audio, 5:7 p.m.), narrated by Imogen Church.
And finally, this month also sees the release of Without warning and only sometimes (Tinder Press, 8 h 6 min), a childhood memoir by novelist Kit de Waal.
She reads the audio version, and it’s a wonderful evocation of her family life in 1960s Birmingham, in which her Irish mother’s religious devotion saw her frequently predict the end of the world, while her father, originally from St. Kitts, was taking on an altogether more joyful and celebratory outlook on life – even if there weren’t always the funds to support it. If it makes you want to know more about the fiction of de Waal, his first novel My name is Leon is fantastically read by none other than Sir Lenny Henry.
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