Au­dio­books to trans­port, slightly scare and thrill you

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY KATHER­INE A. POW­ERS book­world@wash­ Kather­ine A. Pow­ers re­views au­dio­books each month for The Wash­ing­ton Post.

This all-ab­sorb­ing mas­ter­piece, “Kristin Lavrans­dat­ter,” by No­bel Lau­re­ate Si­grid Und­set has fi­nally en­tered the au­dio­book uni­verse in a truly su­perb, sen­si­tive per­for­mance by Erin Ben­nett. Pub­lished in Nor­we­gian in the early 1920s as a tril­ogy, the book is set in 14th-cen­tury Nor­way and cov­ers the life of Kristin Lavrans­dat­ter and her jour­ney from child­hood to death through “the per­ilous and beau­ti­ful world.” She is se­duced at 16 by a heed­less knight while be­trothed to an­other man and con­ceives a child out of wed­lock in a so­ci­ety that in­sists on the “honor” of women. And that’s just for a start. Ben­nett’s voice cap­tures Kristin’s rapidly chang­ing moods, her trans­ports of love and an­guish, her guilt, courage and ex­hil­a­rated won­der at na­ture’s im­men­sity. The story twists and turns, tak­ing on greater and greater psy­cho­log­i­cal com­plex­ity. It is rich in its por­trayal of 14th-cen­tury ma­te­rial life and of the strain be­tween Chris­tian­ity and an­cient, deep-seated pa­gan be­liefs. The ver­sion nar­rated here is Ti­ina Nun­nally’s award-win­ning trans­la­tion, a ren­der­ing that elim­i­nates the faux-medieval con­tor­tions of the 1920s ver­sion and re­stores Und­set’s crisp, di­rect prose style. This is a long lis­ten, but as you bar­rel down the fi­nal stretch, even as Black Death stalks the land and hu­man sac­ri­fice threat­ens, you will Ewish it went on for­ever. mma Gre­gory reads Tessa Hadley’s spare, slightly chilly sto­ries, cap­tur­ing the lis­tener in 10 sec­onds flat. The first in her “Bad Dreams and Other Sto­ries” be­gins: “Jane All­sop was ab­ducted when she was 15, and no­body no­ticed. This hap­pened a long time ago, in Sur­rey, in the 1960s, when par­ents were more care­less.” What fol­lows in this story, “An Ab­duc­tion,” is not hor­ror, but unease, mis­un­der­stand­ing and a poignant de­pic­tion of a huge event in Jane’s life — and noth­ing mem­o­rable in any­one else’s. The ti­tle story strikes an­other un­set­tling note: Here a lit­tle girl pulls a prank that her mother silently at­tributes to her hus­band, in­sid­i­ously al­ter­ing the tenor of their re­la­tion­ship. Most of these 10 sto­ries de­liver cool shocks, but all are buoyed by an un­der­cur­rent of wry hu­mor and pleas­ingly mel­low irony. Gre­gory reads the sto­ries’ gen­eral nar­ra­tion in a well­bred, ca­ress­ing voice, a man­ner pre­cisely in keep­ing with Hadley’s own way of set­ting her char­ac­ters up for dis­turb­ing de­vel­op­ments. Else­where, when mer­ited, Gre­gory adopts re­gional ac­cents, as when a woman who has es­caped her child­hood up­bring­ing in Leeds for a mod­ish life in Lon­don, re­turns home to her es­tranged sis­ter whose North­ern in­flec­tion, “so wary and flat­ten­ing and grudg­ing,” ac­cen­tu­ates fam­ily en­mity am­pli­fied by class re­sent­ment. Hadley’s ge­nius and Gre­gory’s splen­did per­for­mance have given us an au­dio­book that can be lis­tened to on re­peat.

Joseph Fin­der is the true mas­ter of the thriller in which your or­di­nary guy, go­ing about his or­di­nary busi­ness, takes one wrong step and sud­denly finds him­self on the dark side. In the case of “The Switch,” it’s nice Michael Tan­ner, a cof­fee en­tre­pre­neur with a lot on his mind. Rush­ing to catch a plane, he picks up the wrong lap­top af­ter go­ing through air­port se­cu­rity. It be­longs to a U.S. sen­a­tor and con­tains top-se­cret files on a scheme for govern­ment mass sur­veil­lance. Rather than hand­ing it back to its owner, Tan­ner hangs on to it for rea­sons you will have to dis­cover your­self. Soon enough, he is pur­sued by heav­ies from the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency, a thug­gish Bos­ton “prob­lem solver,” a would-be Karl Rove and a Rus­sian re­cruiter. Steven Kear­ney brings a voice that’s all busi­ness with a sharp lethal edge to this sus­pense­ful, in­tri­cately plot­ted story. His vo­cal char­ac­ter­i­za­tions bring out the best — which is of­ten the worst — in this mot­ley crowd of friends, en­e­mies, po­lit­i­cal big bugs and fix­ers. He dis­tin­guishes eas­ily be­tween men and women and hand­ily ex­e­cutes ac­cents that range from sin­is­ter Slavic through col­lo­quial Bos­to­nian to down-home South­ern.

KRISTIN LAVRANS­DAT­TER By Si­grid Und­set, Trans­lated from Nor­we­gian by Ti­ina Nun­nally, Au­dio Stu­dios, Unabridged, 45 hours

BAD DREAMS AND OTHER STO­RIES By Tessa Hadley HarperAu­dio, Unabridged, 5¾ hours

THE SWITCH By Joseph Fin­der Pen­guin Au­dio, Unabridged, 10 hours

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