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Sue Arnold's audiobook choice - review


Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James, Sodom and Gomorrah by Marcel Proust and Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy

Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James, read by Becca Battoe (19hrs unabridged, Random House, £19.99)
It's probably safe to assume that everyone, even the Dalai Lama, knows what the world's fastest-selling book – 33m copies in 19 weeks – is about, so let's concentrate on the advantages of getting it on audio. Crypto-BDSM (bondage discipline sadism masochism) devotees will, I suspect, prefer to do it themselves without the intrusion of a reader. More so if they're blokes doing it to blokes, because the narrator is Anastasia Steele, a beautiful, susceptible, spankable 22-year-old American college student. Just in case you've been researching dwindling penguin numbers in Antarctica all year, I'd better explain that the Grey in the title refers to young, impossibly handsome, mega-rich Christian Grey, whose inner demons (with which he is constantly wrestling but we haven't time to go into that now) can only be appeased by practising BDS on good-looking masochistic girls. Ana is ideal because she works part-time in a hardware shop to pay her tuition fees, so he can pick up most of the necessary gear – rope, straps, handcuffs, whips – on their first date. It should be erotic but Christian is so damned polite: "Now Ana, if you could please just put on this airline eye mask and then place your left foot through this cuff attached to the iron ring behind your right ear …" It sounds more like flat-pack assembly instructions until "Holy shit!" shrieks Ana, writhing in ecstasy. "Holy fuck! I detonate around him again and again, round and round, as my orgasm rips me apart, scorching through me like a wildfire consuming everything, my body pulsating and shaking …" As will yours, I guarantee, listening to Ms Battoe's bottomless coffer of stifled gasps, ullulating, moans, strangled shrieks, panting sobs, and so on. Pasta needs sauce, and boring, bog-standard BDSM definitely needs a ton of audible ketchup to make it go down.

Sodom and Gomorrah by Marcel Proust, read by Neville Jason (26hrs unabridged, Naxos, £65)
The fourth of Proust's seven-volume epic Remembrance of Things Past also focuses on sensual pleasure, chiefly homosexual, which, though rife and largely accepted in the author's aristocratic social circle, was forbidden. The surprise is that in 1921 he could write so openly about rent boys, male brothels and climbing up a ladder to spy on the violent coupling of Baron de Charlus and a tailor he has just picked up in the street. Talking of readers, couldn't someone have told Neville Jason that camp Kenneth Williams impersonations don't sit easily on Parisian demi-mondeurs. My remembrance of reading Proust, admittedly a long time ago, is hazy and inextricably mixed up with Alain de Botton's 1997 book How Proust Can Change Your Life, but, as with The Archers, it doesn't seem to matter. The Guermantes, Verdurins, Swann, Saint-Loup, Albertine, Cottard, Gilberte – they're all still around being variously snooty, predatory, bitchy, boring, unfaithful and as real as they were three books ago. But despite that and the feasting with panthers leitmotif, unless Proust has indeed changed your life, it's a long haul.

Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy, read by Juliet Stevenson (1hr unabridged, Macmillan, £13)
Enough of sex. This 2005 audio is still the best collection of contemporary love poems I've heard. Juliet Stevenson reading Duffy is as good as – no, better than – Alex Jennings reading Shakespeare's sonnets. Rapture's 51 poems chart the progress of a single passionate love affair, from its delirious beginning – "Falling in love is glamorous hell / The crouched parched heart like a tiger ready to kill / A flame's fierce licks under the skin" – to its desolate end: "All day slow funerals have ploughed the rain / We've done again that trick we have of turning love to pain". Give it to someone or, better still, keep it and burn, brood, weep.

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