Douglas Stuart’s first novel — a brilliant, heart-rending work that has been shortlisted for both the National Book Award in fiction and the Booker Prize — is set in decaying, working-class neighborhoods around Glasgow of the Thatcher era. This is an arena of closed coal pits and industrial plants, of unemployment, idleness and alcoholism. In the midst of it is Shuggie, a gentle, sensitive boy, the son of a callous, flashy taxi driver for whom Shuggie’s mother, Agnes, left her steady, indulgent first husband. A melodramatic, self-destructive alcoholic, Agnes is, nonetheless, adored by Shuggie, whose days revolve around her problem — placating her, attempting bootlessly to keep her from drink and creating a ruckus. Stuart’s genius at evoking place, predicament and intense emotional states, is wonderfully served by the narrator, Angus King, a Scotsman himself. His moderate (which is to say, intelligible) Glaswegian accent brings further authenticity to the town’s argot: dreich, stour, boak — words that reek of wretchedness. Based in the author’s life, the novel, for all its grimness and woe, is the most accomplished, moving book I have listened to — or read — all year. (Dreamscape, Unabridged, 17 ½ hours)
'His Only Wife'
Set in Ghana, Peace Adzo Medie’s deeply felt debut novel is the story of Afi Tekple, who is shoved into an arranged marriage to Eli. Behind the match is Eli’s wealthy mother, universally known as Aunty. A hard-nosed manipulator, Aunty is determined to separate her son from the hated Liberian woman with whom he has been living for years. Eli provides Afi with a flat in Accra where, dismayingly, she discovers she will live alone, her husband showing up only sporadically. Still, Afi eventually falls in love with her husband, agonizingly so. Despite promising to leave the other woman, Eli temporizes endlessly. The situation is humiliating, but Afi finds no support in her own family. This is only to touch on the events and characters in this powerful story. Soneela Nankani, a talented voice actor of East Indian and West African heritage, narrates the book, her performance perfectly conveying Afi’s bafflement, hurt, anger and growing resolve to untangle herself from other people’s machinations. (Workman Audio, Unabridged, 9 hours)
Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks every month for The Washington Post.