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Don’t know where to start? Londonist editor Matt Brown has selected four London titles that work particularly well as audiobooks.
White Teeth, Zadie Smith
Smith’s turn-of-the-century novel is widely acknowledged as a modern classic. Witty, often farcical but full of heart, White Teeth is one big, superior soap opera of multiethnic London. Jenny Sterlin’s narration on the Audible version captures the humour well, and the characters’ voices still live on in my head two years after listening. An excellent starting point if you’ve never tried an audiobook before.
The Book of Dave, Will Self
Some books are better listened to than read. Self’s novel is one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever possessed, but I don’t think I’d have got too far had I picked it up in paperback. It is partly set in a flooded, future London. The primitive inhabitants uncover a book containing the right-wing musings of a London cab driver (Dave) from our own era. They base their entire society on its misogynistic teachings, and a cab driver’s rant becomes a religion. It’s a brilliant but challenging novel, whose time-shifting plot, layers of parody and use of heavy dialect make for a difficult read. The audiobook brings everything to life. Will Self’s narration reveals the subtleties of his own writing, making his purposely absurd future London seem almost possible.
84 Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff
This book chronicles the 20 year real-life correspondence between Frank Doel, a long-suffering book seller at Marks and Co, Charing Cross Road, and Helene Hanff a demanding but loveable bibliophile in New York. The at-first businesslike back and forth soon develops into a warm relationship, drawing in the colleagues, friends and family of the two protagonists. But no synopsis can do justice to this mini-masterpiece. I admit to weeping on the tube while listening; not through sadness, but the sheer humanity and kindness of it all, handled beautifully by narrators John Nettles and Juliet Stevenson.
Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell
Jeremy Northam’s narration of Orwell’s memoir is skilfully done. From the punishing life of a Parisian kitchen assistant to the days spent tramping around London with no guaranteed roof over his head, Orwell’s prose is read with a matter-of-fact delivery that only heightens the horrors of poverty. Orwell’s first full-length book remains a compelling glimpse into the hardships of city life in the interwar years.
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