Home > Book Reviews > Listening to audiobooks: Oryx and Crake, Never Let Me Go and Fay

Listening to audiobooks: Oryx and Crake, Never Let Me Go and Fay

About a month ago I started a new job that involves a hell of a lot of driving, so I thought I’d invest in a cheap mp3 player and some audiobooks. Three novels that I’ve managed to get through so far are Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Larry Brown’s Fay. These novels were chosen mainly because they a) are among the 200+ titles I own in hard copy and haven’t read and b) an audiobook version was available. Normally I have a hard time getting through books that are longer than about 350 pages in length, but on the long drives I actually prefer having something meaty that will last me a while. Hence the next cab off the rank is going to be Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, which I just was never going to get around to. Hell, I might even try Gravity’s Rainbow.  What follows are some miniature (read: half-hearted) reviews of all three.

I wanted to like this book, and in some ways, I did. It was a bit slow moving for a post-apocalyptic novel, but the three main characters, Snowman, Crake and Oryx are interesting and well realised. The setting is fairly interesting if a little ‘cookie-cutter’ and there’s a slight sense of Atwood reinventing the wheel, given that she doesn’t consider herself a speculative fiction writer (and yet this is comfortably something we’d call a speculative novel). The thing I really disliked was the utterly bleak vision, not of the future (although that’s pretty darn bleak – but not as bleak as The Road) but of human nature. Atwood seems to be saying that there’s absolutely no hope for any of us or for our civilisation. That may be so, but it it’s true, then why not kill yourself instead of producing a work of art such as this?

Ishiguro’s novel is another that transcends the boundary between genre and literary fiction. That’s all well and good, but I found the first two-thirds of this book very slow moving and basically without consequence. Ishiguro’s art is a subtle one, probably too subtle for my liking, and thus most of the book is basically a tedious description of boarding school life in England in the latter part of the twentieth century. Like Atwood’s novel, this one too centres around three main characters: Kathy, Tommy and Ruth. I found that I disliked Ruth intensely as the novel progressed, and that I didn’t like the other two a whole lot more. Never Let Me Go finally does pay off both in terms of the mystery at the heart of the book and also, more importantly, in an emotional sense, but it leaves it pretty late to do so, and had I not been a captive audience in my car, I doubt I’d have finished it.

In the past few years I’ve come to love the genre of Southern Gothic, and thus I was expecting (and am still expecting) to enjoy the work of Larry Brown. Fay just isn’t that crash hot, unfortunately. It may be that it is one of the author’s final works and not really up to scratch. I’ve got Joe here so I’m prepared to give this author another chance. What’s the problem? Basically, Brown seems unable to select detail. He just dumps it in. Thus we have page upon page of mindless description of people getting out their cigarettes and lighters, going to their ice-boxes for beer, drink driving, fucking and general nasty behaviour of all kinds. Not that I dislike reading about this sort of thing. Hell no. Harry Crews’ A Feast of Snakes is about precisely these things and I adore it. But Fay is bloated, overly long, without any sense of a redeeming moral, and just plain depressing. Shucks.

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