42 Word Retrospectives

The Ruby in the Smoke

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman (Oxford University Press, 1985); audiobook read by Anton Lesser (Bolinda, 2015) Pullman captures the essence of Victorian London (without belabouring the setting), and his characters all stand out, especially in Lesser’s audiobook reading. The story, however, gains little from these virtues, its omniscient third-person narrative frittering away most of the tension and…

Saturday Live, Volume One

Saturday Live, Volume One by Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie (Redbush, 2015) A patchy collection of highlights (so-called) from the 1986 TV variety show. Fry and Laurie are first-billed but don’t actually feature that much. Instead, there’s Ben Elton’s high-octane social and political stand-up, protest poems by Craig Charles, and several remarkably unfunny also-rans.    

A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (Ward Lock & Co, 1887); audiobook read by Stephen Fry (ABC/Audible, 2017) This would have made a fine short story—introducing the great detective to his chronicler—yet the lengthy second part serves only to demonstrate Conan Doyle’s dependence on Holmes and Watson. In the absence of these seminal characters, the prose turns flaccid.…

The Witches

The Witches by Roald Dahl (Jonathan Cape, 1983); audiobook read by Miranda Richardson (Penguin, 2013) Scary and horrid and yet rather wondrous and fun, Roald Dahl’s take on witches remains a classic of middle grade fiction. Miranda Richardson’s audiobook reading is nicely pitched (notwithstanding her overly grating Grand High Witch and some oddly lacklustre, unnecessary sound effects).    

Reach for the Sky

Reach for the Sky: The Story of Douglas Bader DSO, DFC by Paul Brickhill (W. W. Norton & Company, 1954); audiobook read by Robert Hardy (Chivers, 1991/2010) Brickhill is firmly eulogistic (though not without cause) in detailing the extraordinary feats of double-amputee fighter pilot Douglas Bader, and also something of English life itself in the interwar period and during World…