The best audio books of 2011

December 9, 2011

THE SISTERS BROTHERS

By Patrick deWitt.

Harper Audio, unabridged, 7 ¾ hours, download only; audible.com: $28.78; BN.com: $18.25

Set during the gold rush, this brilliant picaresque tale of two brothers, a pair of hired killers, has found the ideal narrator in John Pruden. Traveling by horseback to California to take care of business, the two men encounter peril, temptation, hope, greed and blighted fortune in the book’s many characters. Pruden puts them before us with true versatility: among others, a bloodcurdling old woman; a weeping man; a plucky but luckless boy; a sharp-tongued siren; and, at last, their prey, a crotchety prospector with a secret formula. Pruden mixes gravel and impatience in the voice of Charlie, the older, bossy brother, but rises to match the novel’s genius in the deadpan earnestness, sweetness and rue in the voice of the younger, Eli, from whose point of view the story is told and wherein lies its poignant comedy. This is the best book I have heard all year.

LAST MAN IN TOWER

By Aravind Adiga.

Random House Audio, unabridged, 14 ¼ hours, 13 CDs $45; audible.com download, $26.95.


’The Sisters Brothers: A Novel’ by Patrick deWitt (Ecco)

Aravind Adiga’s second novel is set — like his first, the Man Booker Prize-winning “White Tiger” — in Mumbai, the booming, money-mad heart of the New India. At its center is Vishram Society (Tower A), a desperately respectable housing cooperative whose residents have been offered large sums by a ruthless developer to move out. Not everyone rejoices in this, foremost among them Masterji, an aging widower whose refusal evolves into an existential “no.” The novel abounds with deftly drawn characters whose personalities, rivalries and irritating little ways are a source of joy to both reader and listener. They are all wonderfully realized by narrator Sam Dastor. A classically trained actor who is himself a native of Mumbai, he brings a genuine, musical Indian accent to the voices, distinguishing among the speakers through a range of tones and evocations of temper. This is an outstanding performance of a truly great book.

MY FATHER’S FORTUNE

A Life

By Michael Frayn.

AudioGo, unabridged, 10 hours, 8 CDs, $29.95; audible.com download, $18.17

The great British actor Martin Jarvis gives a first-class performance in Michael Frayn’s idiosyncratic foray into memoir, which is both an affecting reminiscence of the author’s father and a whimsical excursion into the question of personal identity. Jarvis’s fine, beeswaxed voice has a rich, viscerally satisfying timbre, always present in every character and mood. At times he affects a confidential, lunchtime manner; at others his voice is charged with the excitement of sleuthing and deduction, and at yet others with wry skepticism and Frayn’s distinctive and exhilarating wonder at the fortuitousness of existence. Finally, when a passage from a hymn is called for, no one can match Jarvis for vigorous Anglican pomp. This is a splendidly engaging book and presentation.


‘Last Man in Tower: A Novel’ by Aravind Adiga (Knopf)

THE END OF THE WASP SEASON

By Denise Mina

AudioGo, unabridged, 13 ¼ hours,
11 CDs, $29.99; audible.com download, $26.49

This is Denise Mina’s second thriller to star Glasgow’s Detective Inspector Alex Morrow. Cunningly plotted and character-driven, a story that is enthralling on the page becomes unforgettable in this audio production thanks to the superb performance of Scottish-born Jane MacFarlane. Though somewhat mellowed by finding herself pregnant with twins, Morrow is still prickly, independent-minded and determined to solve the savage murder of a young woman. In the course of this, the novel moves through Glasgow’s class strata and neighborhoods and on to Perth. MacFarlane’s keyed-down accent murmurs in one’s head long after the novel’s startling denouement.

THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS

By Anthony Trollope

Blackstone, unabridged, 24 hours; blackstoneaudio.com: 19 CDs, $61.50; 2 MP3 discs, $44.95; Playaway, $69.99; 17 cassettes, $57.48; BN.com download, $29; audible.com download, $34.96

The third of Trollope’s Palliser novels stands alone nicely, gathering itself around a willful, mendacious schemer, Lizzie Eustace. Beautiful and rich, she is “not just all that she should be,” in the words of one of the novel’s well-born older ladies. Among narrator Simon Vance’s many talents is his flair for censorious dowagers, filling their voices with lofty pique and the creaking of stays. Meanwhile, his Lizzie is, in turns, seductive, self-pitying and excellently flustered by the pickle into which her ceaseless lies have plunged her. As with all Trollope’s novels, the author’s voice is ever at large examining the moral territory. To this editorial presence, Vance gives a limber pacing and genial tone that are exactly in tune with Trollope’s humane sensibility.

Powers regularly reviews audio books for The Post.

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