'The Daughters of Foxcote Manor'
Eve Chase’s specialty is country houses with dark histories. Here, it is Foxcote Manor, deep in the Gloucestershire woods, the story split between present-day London and 1971, the year we meet Rita. She is nanny to Hera, 13, and Teddy, 5, children of Walter and Jeannie. Walter has sent the family to the country, hoping his wife will get over having lost a baby at birth. But an atmosphere of foreboding pervades the place, amplified by the arrival of Don, Jeannie’s brutal lover. And, sure enough, Hera discovers an abandoned baby and Teddy stumbles upon a dead body. Meanwhile, nearly 50 years later, Sylvie Broom is beset by triple ordeals: She has left her husband, her mother is in a coma, and her daughter, Annie, is pregnant by a young man whose own mother is raising hell. The story slips back and forth in time making up a cleverly constructed puzzle of a plot whose pieces finally snap together in a truly gratifying manner. Katherine Press narrates the novel in a nicely-brought-up English voice that is entirely in keeping with the book’s air of well-bred madness and secrecy. (Penguin Audio, Unabridged, 101/2 hours)
Published 30 years ago, but only recently available as a downloadable audiobook, Gore Vidal’s great novel is elegantly knowledgeable, gossip rich, and, alas, as timely as it ever was. Set from 1917 to 1923, it covers this country’s entrance into the First World War, the scourge of the 1918 flu pandemic, and the election of 1920 that produced an inattentive Warren G. Harding, whose tenure — so unavoidably reminiscent of a more recent administration — saw prodigious peculation and self-dealing. The book’s title is emblematic of its central theme, the dominion of imagemakers and the country’s embrace of an American identity manufactured by Hollywood. The book ends with Calvin Coolidge as president. (“Calvin Coolidge,” exclaims the patrician Henry Cabot Lodge in horror, “that dreadful little creature in his dreadful two-family house.”) Vidal has populated history with a set of fictional characters who bear witness to and, at times, take part in the events of the day, great and small. Grover Gardner, a master of American voices (and less so of English or Irish) narrates the book with his usual panache and feeling for Vidal’s dry wit. (Brilliance Audio, Unabridged, 211/2 hours)
Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks every month for The Washington Post.