I’ve been having a mini-binge on audible originals: they’re short, they’re free and they’re all different. When I was a child, we used to be able to buy bags of misshaped chocolates from the local Cadbury’s factory. The bags were sealed and priced by weight. You knew how much you were getting but not what it was going to taste like. Audible Originals are a bit like that, and, just like the misshaped chocolates in the bag, I find it hard to stop at one and save the rest for later.
So, here are my thoughts on the three Audible Originals that I finished in the last twenty-four hours.
‘The Cuckoo’s Cry’ (2020) by Caroline Overington.
Length 4 hours 43 mintues. Narrated by Aimee Horne
Although this novel has strong, clearly-drawn, relatable characters, perfectly-pitched dialogue and some moments of real tension, I found myself increasingly disengaged from it as I reached the final third of the book.
It felt to me that this was a story that twisted in my hands, starting as one thing and ending as something else.
I loved the night-before-Lockdown opening. It was surprising but credible and more than a little menacing. The life of the about-to-turn-seventy widower-of-many-years who copes with loneliness by sticking to a routine that includes daily early-morning swims on Bondi Beach and fishmongers or beans on toast in front of the telly in the evening was described with a nice combination of accuracy and empathy.
For the first couple of hours, this felt like a thriller. There was mistrust, which may or may not have been paranoid and sharing and support that may or may not have been cynical manipulation. The stakes kept getting higher until, eventually, things got physical. I’d expected the story to climax there, releasing the tension and using a short epilogue to tie things up.
That wasn’t what happened. As the thriller plot rolled forward, more and more time was spent on the character and history of the various family members. It was good stuff but it was more detailed than a thriller required and I felt it kept dissipating the tension the thriller plot had created. By the end of the book, the family drama part of the story had become dominant and the final chapters were spent not in tying up loose ends in the thriller plot but in fleshing out the history behind the domestic drama and driving rather determinedly towards a more or less happy ending.
This didn’t work for me. I ended the book thinking that I’d met some interesting characters but missed out on the chance for a thriller-in-a-time-of-COVID that I would have enjoyed a lot more.
‘The Messengers’ (2020) by Lindsay Joelle
1 hour 20 minutes full cast play performed by
Kaliswa Brewster, Ana Reeder, Zoë Winters, and Alex Weisman
This was the kind of play that I might go and see at my local community theatre: basic set, four-person cast with only two people on set at a time, a Science Fiction setting that might as well have been Prospero’s island.
As I always do with this kind of play, I found myself being a little distant and hard to please at first. I raised an eyebrow at some of the humour and wondered if this was all going to be that kind of instantly forgettable facile Fringe wit or if something more interesting was happening. Then, bit by bit, the characters drew me in.
Yes, I was curious about how the two sets of couples were linked and whether they would meet and the social and political context that they were operating in, but what made me sit forward in my chair and engage was the impact the people in each pair had on each other. They started as strangers with agendas that normally have set them against one another. They had very little in common either in life experience or in personality. And yet an intimacy of sorts developed. Not one based on mutual attraction or unresolved sexual tension but one that was linked to the constraints each of them lived under.
By the end of the play, I understood the title and the message that was encoded in the dialogue and I admired the craft in it and the elegance of the structure. Perhaps it was all a little too tidy but if it had been less tidy, how would I have read the message? And anyway, I liked the people and had started to believe in them.
If this had been a play at my local theatre, I’d have been applauding happily at the end.
‘The Werewolf’s 15 Minutes’ (2021) by Jonathan Maberry
1 hour 42 minutes long, narrated by Ray Porter and Dina Pearlman
This was a lot of fun. It took a little while for me to get to grips with it, mainly because I had no sympathy for Gary and his two stoner friends, but I was pulled in by the humour around social media and by the plausibility of this hard-to-credit story. I love the idea that a guy makes a video of himself turning into a werewolf and all anyone wants to know is what app he used to fake the transition.
I liked that, halfway through the story, after satirising the way social media creates celebrities and destroys them, the focus moved to Gary and what his life had been like and the story deepened and darkened.
What I liked most was the ending. I didn’t see it coming but when we got there, it was perfect.