Audio Books


A copy of Philip Pulman's A Subtle Knife arrived in France as both audio and print book ... I plugged in the audio version. It became my treat and reward as I redecorated. Loyal to the text it had young actors speak their parts as the author narrated the rest, and was utterly thrilling.

I wasn't yet hooked on audio books. That waited till this summer, when my mother's illness in faraway hospitals saw me left to drive on my own a good deal, down the A1 then around the M25. Nicholas Coleridge's God's Monsters was my first book. I knew I would never get round to this in book form and chose it for its reader, Simon Russel Beale. A magnificently read soap opera, quite compelling. Then on to Peter Carey's Ned Kelley - I love the writer yet knew I would stumble around the variant language and punctuation of this voloume. The reading was a delight, overcoming those difficulties, the book one of the most heart-warming adventure stories you could imagine. I wanted to keep on driving all the time.

My journey to work now takes me twenty minutes, and in short episodes I've just polished off Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy - again one I would never have bothered to read, but pleasing if inconsequential in Radio Four's dramatized version.

Suddenly I'm bereft of an ongoing audio book. I've slammed in an order for two over the internet, and borrowed Julian Barnes's own rendition of his England England from the library - again going for books I would not actually get around to reading but still expect to enjoy.

Last Sunday a short car journey saw me in tears. The tape this time was one a friend had recorded from the radio, an edition of Radio Four's Something Understood. The excerpt that moved me so much came from my own On Sacred Mountains. I was curious to see what extract they had chosen. They went for a section on the top of Mount Cuchama near the end of the book, where I was coming to recognize I was not to be quaked open and forced to descend the mountain and start a new world religion, as I had half expected. The final moments of the reading, beautifully done, were the prayer I composed on top of that mountain, the summation on my mountain journey. Hearing it in someone else's voice hammered it home. What a wonderful audio book the whole thing would make!

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