Up next on my reviews is an audio round-up. It’s been a while since I listened to some of these books and I find that if I haven’t written anything down about the books then I am likely to forget things… But here goes!
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
This has been on my radar for a while, after being shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and I thought it sounded like a fun read. At first I wasn’t sure about how the format would transfer to audio as the book is made up of a series of emails, letters, articles and messages and I thought it may get a little confusing. Happily, this wasn’t the case and I did get drawn in to the story. Semple captures perfectly the annoying superior voices of ‘soccer moms’, interfering in school life and judging other mothers. I thought it was a really fun book, and different too. It worked well in audio for the most part, although anyone who’s listened to the audiobook will struggle to remove the memory of the narrator screeching Oh holy night into their ears (in my case at 8 o’clock on an August morning. Not entertaining.) I loved Bernadette and her attitude to the know-it-all nosy mums at her daughter’s school, but was infuriated by her naïveté at times. I found her daughter Bee’s voice and attitude a bit immature to be 15, but this may be partly due to the fact that I had just read Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon! This is a fun book and I have already recommended it to a few friends, and the format works really well with the story.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
I loved this book, and I am slightly disappointed that I didn’t read a physical copy as I think I may have enjoyed it even more. Ursula is born on a snowy winter’s night, and as the cord is wrapped around her neck she draws what will be the first of her last breaths. This is a story of multiple chances at life and explores that notion of ‘What if?’ which I find fascinating – how she gets 2, 3, 4 chances at getting things right, and the different consequences that seemingly inconsequential actions will have. The nature of the narrative being that it jumps back and forth meant I could sometimes miss things and find it hard to skip back to work out what had happened. Aside from that one bug-bear I did enjoy Fenella Woolgar’s narration, her voice seemed to work perfectly with the story (I loved her in the Stephen Fry adaptation of Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, Bright Young Things). I think I will be reading this book again at some point! This is nominated for the 2013 Costa Novel Award – given that it has missed out on Man Booker and Women’s Prize for fiction accolades I think it would be a very worthy winner.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
I thought this book was wonderful as well, one of the most affecting books I’ve read this year. It’s a début from Hannah Kent, telling the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. The narrative focuses around the family charged with keeping Agnes as their prisoner before her execution, and involves Agnes’s recollections herself and those of the young priest trying to help her achieve some kind of absolution for the murder she has been accused of. Agnes is haunted by her past and memories of her lover Natan Ketilsson, who was brutally murdered in his own home. The story is compelling, all the more so as it is based on real events and that you already know how it must end. What I enjoyed in particular about listening to this book was hearing the correct pronunciation of Icelandic names and places – if I had been reading this myself I would have had some hashed guess in my head which can’t do justice to the music of the words. It’s a beautiful and moving book, and an interesting imagining of the last days of Agnes Magnúsdóttir.
Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
I chose this book as I thought it would be a light-hearted, Agatha Christie-esque foray into murder mystery, set at Pemberley with all of the characters of Pride and Prejudice. I can hardly begin to tell you how disappointed I was by this book. I found the first part tedious with its summing-up of everything that had happened in Pride and Prejudice and introducing the characters. Given that this book will appeal mostly to Austen fans, it all seemed a bit unnecessary and almost a way of filling out the book and it’s weak storyline. I didn’t even manage to finish it, abandoning it about 3/4s of the way through after enduring the tedious (again!) ramblings of the doctor, and the local constabulary. It completely lacked the sparkle and wit of Austen’s novel and seems like a weak spin-off. Lizzie Bennet featured far too little for my liking and everything seemed to be left to the men to sort out. I was sorely disappointed and wouldn’t recommend this at all…as you can tell from my other reviews, I’m not usually so vehement in my negative comments but this just didn’t work at all for me!
(This Digested Read from The Guardian pretty much sums up how I feel about the book. As does the cartoon.)
I still have 5 credits left to go on my Audible gold subscription (which I won in a competition run by Granta Mag) and I want to choose wisely – I want books that will keep me entertained without being too heavy, with engaging stories. I like to have some room for my mind to wander as I mainly listen to them whilst walking to work and my brain is not always completely switched on and able to appreciate lyrical prose first thing in the morning! And so, onto the next audiobook… I am once again considering The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (of J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym fame). I enjoyed listening to a crime story (Natural Causes by James Oswald) but having just abandoned a murder mystery I might need to have a rethink! Any suggestions?