Audio Books of Updike's 'Rabbit' Tetralogy, and 'The Woman in White' and 'Q&A'

By Katherine A. Powers
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Rabbit, Run"

By John Updike, 12 hours, download, $31.50

"Rabbit, Redux"

16 hours, Books on Tape (, 13 CDs, $88; download, $35

"Rabbit Is Rich"

19 1/2 hours, Books on Tape, 17 CDs, $96; download, $35

"Rabbit at Rest"

22 1/4 hours, Books on Tape, 18 CDs, $103; download, $35

John Updike's two Pulitzer Prizes were awarded to him for the last two Rabbit novels, and yet only now is the Rabbit tetralogy appearing in audio form (as indeed is its sequel, the novella "Rabbit Remembered"). A long wait, perhaps, but many of the infelicities of the early days of audio books have thus been avoided. The match between reader Arthur Morey and the life and times of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom couldn't be improved upon; in fact, for this reader and listener, the work has been enhanced. Morey's down-to-earth, matte-finished voice complements the novels' intense materiality and dailiness. He shades it in various degrees to reflect the characters, male and female, old and young, their race, their class and even, most entertainingly, the formulaic hack journalism of the Linotype-setting passages in "Rabbit Redux." Morey delivers the general narration with impeccable understatement, conveying the sense of dissatisfaction, the air of moribundity and of "stifled terror," that pervades the work as a whole. His slow pacing allows the reader to savor the precision of Updike's imagery, as -- to quote a passage describing Rabbit's existence after his wife leaves him -- the "days, pale slices between nights . . . blend, not exactly alike, transparencies so lightly tinted that only stacked all together do they darken to a fatal shade."

"The Woman in White"

By Wilkie Collins, 28 hours, Naxos AudioBooks, 22 CDs, $128; download, $60

"The Woman in White," Wilkie Collins's best-selling novel, a white-knuckler and a melodrama, has continued to transfix readers for almost 150 years. Naxos brings six accomplished actors to this story of subjugation, treachery and sleuthing. This is not a dramatized production but, rather, one made up of accounts related in sequence by the book's characters, who are given voice by different actors. Glen McCready takes on Walter Hartright's narrative, and his troubled, slightly vulnerable-sounding tone underscores that this particular drawing master may not be quite man enough to tackle the devious Count Fosco. For that, the story calls on Marian Halcombe, companion to Laura Fairlie -- the intended victim of Fosco's ally, the odious Sir Percival Glyde. As Halcombe, Rachel Bavidge makes her native Tyneside accent a token of that admirable woman's clear-eyed shrewdness and strength. Hugh Dickson reads the solicitor's account and also that of the self-centered, hypochondriacal Frederic Fairlie, upon whose voice he confers a most glorious querulousness. Other parts are beautifully narrated by Marie Collett and Teresa Gallagher. And finally, Allan Corduner is the definitive Fosco, his voice resounding with the timbre of vainglory and projecting all the menace that is so terrifyingly incarnate in the Count's vast frame.

"Q&A" ("Slumdog Millionaire")

By Vikas Swarup, Unabridged, 10 3/4 hours, BBC Audiobooks America, $29.95

"Slumdog Millionaire's" eight Academy Awards have brought deserved attention to the novel upon which it was based: Vikas Swarup's "Q&A," which itself has now adopted the movie's title. Previously available only in abridged form, it has just been produced in an unabridged version, magnificently narrated by Christopher Simpson, an actor who specializes in characters from the Indian subcontinent. Simpson is a master of accents, not only the Indian of the book's narrator but also those of the diverse characters who troop through the book's plot, which is more complicated and enthralling than the movie's. They include full-blown Americans, strangle-palated Australians and toffee-nosed British. Although, like the movie, the novel includes cruelty, pain and injustice aplenty, it is also, like the movie, a thoroughly entertaining melodrama and here, in audio form, an engaging tall tale wonderfully realized by this many-voiced narrator.

Powers, who reviews audio books for Book World, writes a literary column for the Boston Globe.

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