The Dublin Literary Award is notable for two reasons: nominations come from librarians around the world, all drawing on books originally written in English and in translation; and there is a huge offer of 100,000 €. With former winners such as Jon McGregor, Colm Tóibín and Anna Burns, this year’s shortlist included Bernardine Evaristo and Colson Whitehead, with the prize ultimately going to Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli for her novel. Archives of lost children.
The audio version (HarperCollins, 11:16 am) is particularly interesting because the novel itself is intimately linked to sound. Its main characters – a husband and wife who embark with their children on a road trip from New York to Arizona – are audio specialists themselves, engaged in capturing and documenting the aural landscape of the America.
Narrated by Luiselli herself and actor Kivlighan de Montebello, the production evokes both the limits of the car the family travels in and the vast spaces they encounter, as well as – crucially – with the communities of voiceless and undocumented migrants and the dispossessed who inhabit them. Bringing all of this to life requires constant manipulation of the tension: that of the tensions and cracks that manifest within the family, the sense of discovery and dismay that unfolds throughout the journey, and apprehension. of so many lives whose stories are rarely told. It’s done in an impressive and sensitive way.
I don’t do my best to recommend titles that require a strong stomach, but I make an exception for Come join our disease by Sam Byers (Faber & Faber, 11:40), narrated by Heydon Elijah. Its title, with its bewildering notes of apprehension and puckishness, gives the slightest clue of what to follow: a novel that builds a dreadfully angry piece of satire out of, squarely, bodily waste.
It tells the story of Maya, a young woman who is “saved” from homelessness by a government-business initiative; in exchange for a home and a job scrolling the internet’s depravity to clean it up for public consumption, she must chart her course to become a useful member of society on social media. She is, in other words, a poster child of capitalism, consumerism and corruption.
As you might expect, it doesn’t work. Maya’s alienation and unwillingness to give in to a life of passive productivity drives her to ever greater acts of rebellion, and ultimately a squat characterized primarily by its filth and decay. The audio version works so well because of the contrast between Elijah’s almost perky narration – Maya’s voice, despite her frequent bewilderment and distaste for her surroundings, remains poised and calm, even enthusiastic – and what is. described.
It’s all there: shit, piss, vomit, weeping sores – anything we look away from; Everything the bland world of advertisements, political slogans and glossy photos of social media encourages us to pretend we’re not there at all. And, of course, when it goes straight to your ears, it’s a lot harder to skip the detail. I hardly sell this as your next relaxing listen, that’s right – but it’s truly captivating, even in its most disgusting state.
The next two choices undoubtedly demand your attention and your emotions. On a lighter note, I really enjoyed Ethan Hawke A shining ray of darkness (Penguin Audio, 7:38), in which the actor tells his imagined story of another actor, about to make his Broadway debut as his personal life is on the verge of collapse. Delightfully, Hawke goes full blast, conjuring up a world of theatrical grandiosity, engulfed egos, fragile self-doubt, and unresponsive celebrity with a performance of bravery. Suffice it to say he won’t win any awards for outsourcing, which is exactly what this Grand Guignol story demands.
And finally, also this month is Lisa McInerney’s The rules of revelation (John Murray, 11hr 10min), the final installment in a Cork-based trilogy that started with the award The glorious heresies and Blood miracles. All three books are narrated in audio versions by Shelley Atkinson, who brilliantly captures the fast-paced, free feel of McInerney’s tragicomic demi-world.
These are novels filled with larger-than-life characters – around the main protagonist, sometimes teenage gangster Ryan Cusack, swirls a cast of drug dealers, sex workers, gang members and shady businessmen – and most of them are on the move, whether they run to or escape trouble.
Atkinson spins all the narrative plates, his pacy performance mingling with Munster’s distinctive musical accent, his conspiratorial voice perfect for wild adventures, anecdotes and statements from McInerney’s crew.
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