Genre round-up: the best new audio books

Tan Twan Engs The House of Doors (WF Howes, 11 hrs 15 mins) takes us back to 1921 and the British Crown Colony of Malaya. At Penang’s Cassowary House, lawyer Robert Hamlyn and his wife Lesley are waiting for a visit: Robert’s old friend Willie, now an internationally acclaimed playwright, short story writer and novelist – in other words, W. Somerset Maugham.

Tan Twan Eng’s third novel is his first in 12 years, and the depth of his slightly worn research coupled with a layered complexity makes one appreciate the meticulous care with which it must have been written.

Read by David Oakes and Louise-Mai Newberry, the audio version plays beautifully with the two main characters, Willie and his hostess Lesley: he is rocked by an unexpected financial turnaround that threatens both his lifestyle and that of his secretary and lover, Gerald Haxton, strained before tension and attempts to remain apathetic; She was determined to save face despite her husband’s infidelity and his increasingly ill health.

The narrative alternates between the two, diving back in time to reveal their complex backstories as well as the fascinating story of the real-life Chinese revolutionary, Sun Yat-sen. In the distance between Maugham’s urbane, appraising tone and Lesley’s resolutely optimistic response to the unrest around her, the listener gets a glimpse of the meaning of what is not said – an elegant analogy to the silence and distortions of the colonial era.

The literary inspiration for the novel lies in Maugham’s collection of short stories The casuarina tree, particularly The Letter, which relied on a historic trial in which an expat woman was convicted of murdering her lover. Should The House of Doors Spark a desire to listen to Maugham’s own work, there is an excellent and extensive BBC collection of dramatizations and readings, as well as numerous special versions of his novels and stories. He’s a writer who may be far less fashionable than he’s been in decades past, but the precision and judgment of his work might lead you to suspect that this is a passing state.

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Now for another type of short story. Most recently, actress Ruth Wilson was seen on stage The second wife, an extraordinary 24-hour play in which she re-enacted a seven-minute scene 100 times as various viewers came and went. But Wilson also found time to read Madeline Millers Galatea (Bloomsbury Audio, 46 ​​minutes), which may be short in duration, but packs a punch.

Wilson swings superbly as she brings to life a story full of animation and idealization – the myth of Pygmalion, the Greek sculptor who decides to construct for himself the ideal woman. Galatea has other ideas, however, and Wilson brings out the comedy in them Jeu d’esprit and Miller’s deadly serious exposition of power and control. Both actor and writer manage to capture the intersection between menace and playfulness impressively.

Those particularly interested in delving into the ancient world might also want to check out Tim McInnerny’s rich and evocative read of Conn Iggulden’s work Rich (Penguin Audio, 13 hrs 8 mins), the latest installment in the author’s Golden Age series, this time focusing on Pericles and his attempts to defend Athens from the marauding Spartans.

The heat of summer weighs on the beaches and pool areas at Emma Cline’s The host (Penguin Audio, 8 hours 36 minutes), set in a luxurious enclave on Long Island. Here, a 22-year-old escort named Alex takes the coattails of the much older and decidedly wealthy Simon. As her connection falters, she must find her own happiness amidst the denizens of this gilded world.

Carlotta Brentan’s narration underscores the compelling observational eye of Cline’s prose and her ability to get to the heart of closed societies (her debut novel). the girls was based on the Manson family and the way their murderous cult leader wooed vulnerable young women with his charisma. She leads us into a seemingly languid scene where rivalry and rapacity thrive beneath the surface. Alex is a not-innocent innocent sort of thing, her determination to swim rather than sink admirably expressed through Brentan’s relaxed, yet poignant interpretation.

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Finally, the recent death of Martin Amis at the age of 73 has drawn many back to his epoch-making, wholly unique writing. Most of his works are available in audio versions, often narrated by his regular reader, actor Steven Pacey (once a staple of sci-fi television series). Blake’s 7th). Also of note is his last published work, backstory (Penguin Audio, 22 hours 59 minutes), a hybrid of fiction and autobiography, heavily concerned with innuendoes of morality and the loss of loved ones, narrated with great enthusiasm and sensitivity by Alex Jennings. Amis’s voice – sparkling, fierce, funny, imaginative and then suddenly tender and poignant – was unmistakable, and his books deserve to be heard, possibly even repeated.

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