How strange that in both of the two latest audiobooks I listened to, one of the main characters is a medical student called Edward Wells!
A Question of Trust:
While thinking about authors of women’s fiction I had read and enjoyed in the past, I decided to give one of them a listen and also branch out into narrators other than Richard Armitage.
Scandalous! English author Penny Vincenzi is a master of the multi-character saga or, as Vogue called her, “the doyenne of the modern blockbuster”. I hadn’t read one of her books for a long while, but I used to like the way she provided a long, interesting read, while interweaving a large cast of characters over a great many years. I had an iTunes card from Christmas, so I downloaded the audiobook of Vincenzi’s latest novel, A Question of Trust, narrated by experienced actor, Sandra Duncan. At nearly 22 1/2 hours, this would see me through a lot of the driving I had to do in January/February.
Set in England, A Question of Trust begins in 1936 and carries through until 1955, with the final year encompassing many chapters. The story includes romances (both successful and failed), tragedy, and various dilemmas. We meet the upper-class girl whose only ambition is an engagement announcement in the society pages; the medical student (here named Edward or Ned Welles) trying to please his father and himself; the rebellious girl who wants to be a nurse; her best friend who is not sure she will make it as a doctor; the less-privileged but intelligent boy with career and political ambitions; and the equally political and strong-minded young teacher. These characters start out quite separate but, of course, their lives gradually overlap, while we see them through the war years, the ups and downs of the labour party, the beginnings of the National Health Service, the workings of the modelling industry, and the struggles of homosexuals in those times.
Sandra Duncan does a great job performing the work, rather than just narrating, and her characters are well-differentiated, whether male or female, upper-society or working-class, English or American (although the latter is not a perfect accent). She even does one line as a passable Churchill! I would be happy to listen to other narrations by Duncan in the future.
The story itself is very slow going for the first third of the book, as we are introduced to the various characters. I found myself really not caring, as nothing much really happened to these people I was not very invested in. I almost abandoned it, but figured that, at the price I paid (even though on a gift card), I really should persevere. In the end I was glad I did, as the story does pick up and the characters become people whose fate you want to know, particularly as they interact with each other more and more. Not everyone is always nice or acting with the highest ethics, and yet Vincenzi makes them all believable and worthy of happiness, for all of their faults. In my opinion, the ending, in particular, is really masterfully done, with all of the loose ends nicely coming together.
The Martian Invasion of Earth
I love this recording so much! It is an adaptation of HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds in the form of an audio-dramatisation, rather than an audiobook. Written and directed by Nicholas Briggs, it stars Richard Armitage as Herbert Wells and Lucy Briggs-Owen as his wife Amy. They are both wonderful, conveying a full range of powerful emotion, as the horror and terror of the invasion and the will to survive above all else comes through beautifully. Richard Armitage’s voice is so well-suited to the more formal language used in this Victorian era drama, and he is not afraid to grunt and groan and yelp with pain as he throws himself into the role.
And I certainly didn’t mind listening to him saying “My love” over and over! I didn’t think I knew Lucy Briggs-Owen, but then I turned on the first episode of the latest Doc Martin season and there she is hilariously playing a new and medicated vicar!
My favourite scenes in the recording are where Herbert and Amy are struggling to get through to the curate who has clearly lost his grip on reality. These scenes are funny and yet tragic, and the low-voiced anger of Armitage and the take-charge voice of Briggs-Owen are ideal here. Hywel Morgan as the vicar is so believable that you just want to shake him by the shoulders or slap him (as Amy does). Helen Goldwyn as Agatha Elphinstone and Christopher Weeks as Edward Wells (Herbert’s brother and a medical student) are waging their own battle to survive in London and making unexpected choices. The whole cast is really talented, and they provide excellent performances throughout, easily sweeping us up in the action.
The sound effects and the score are perfect for what is a gripping and exciting radio play. I was driving while listening (as I usually do), and I almost had to duck as the explosions rained around me! (I turned it off while driving in the snowstorm last week!) In a few places, the dialogue is difficult to hear due to the sound effects, but it actually adds to the realism, since if the attack were real, the distant voices would not be perfectly distinct. My one complaint is that some of the transitions between scenes are confusing, especially during the battles towards the end. Thank goodness that Armitage and Weeks sound so different (unlike the two women), or it might be even more difficult to figure out which characters we are with in each of these scenes! The ending, too, I found, is a bit abrupt, and I had to listen to that part twice to fully understand what had happened.
This production is definitely worth listening to and is available exclusively from Big Finish Productions. The $12.99 CAD audio download (and the CD option too) comes along with the first-draft script, the final script, the original score, and behind-the-scenes audio interviews with Nicholas Briggs and several of the actors, including Richard Armitage and Lucy Briggs-Owen. Particularly astonishing is the naturally deep voice of Hywel Morgan, who is so good as the high-voiced curate who has lost his mind to the chaos.
In case you missed it, here is the article on The Martian Invasion of Earth in Vortex, the Big Finish magazine.