Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Liberators by Philip Womack, read by Tim Bruce: review

legousi d'hos tis eiseleluthe zenos
goes epodos Ludias apo chtonos
zanthoisi bostruxoisin euosmon komen

An outsider has come, they say,
Howling out enchantments: a sorceror, from Lydia.
His hair smells sweet, his golden curls like lightning.
(The Bacchae, Euripides, lines 233-235, translation by PW.)

Unlocking the inspiration for any book is an impossible task: there are usually several strands, some of which the author may not be aware of until even years after he or she has finished a book. But one cornerstone of The Liberators was always The Bacchae. In it, Pentheus refuses to believe in the avatar of Bacchus (pictured, looking as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, by Simeon Solomon), and meets a bloody death, torn apart by his own mother. Thus was born the idea of a positive force misused for evil.

The dramatic origins of The Liberators were brought to the fore of my mind as I listened to Tim Bruce reading it (six CDs, six days). The recording opens with my translation of the lines from the play which describe the arrival of Bacchus - a stranger with golden hair who promises enchantment. (I was very glad that they chose to do this; not least because one of the reasons I wrote The Liberators was to bring Ancient Greek to children in a digestible form).

One listens to an audiobook as if one were a child: entirely. Thus the scenes that I wrote appeared in my mind in glorious detail. In fact, I think I am going to hire somebody to read out my manuscripts to me as it makes one alive to nuance in a way that is impossible when you are reading it on the page, or even (as I sometimes do) reading it out loud.

Tim Bruce's voice is rich and mellow, capable of ranging from a very haughty Olivia Rocksavage, through the looser tones of the teenagers, to Strawbones' fake cockney, and Julius' harsh, barbaric accent. Strawbones shifts nicely from charismatic to monstrous. One thing that was very effective was the way that Bruce made the ecstatic cry of the Liberators sound. In his hands (as it were) it was a lilting, quasi-religious song, with two long, descending tones. I'd always imagined it as a fiercer, more brutal sound, but it was chillingly good.

Bruce also conveyed brilliantly changes of pace; Ivo's meeting with Julius in his flat was terrifying. It is also rather wonderful to hear the faint crackle of the recording, as if the static makes it authoritative and real.

Hearing the book has also made me notice things I hadn't before; for instance, Ivo's breaking of Strawbones' painting after he's destroyed the Liberators is a manifestation of rage that he should have controlled. There are still lessons to be learned; it's not all finished yet. But, as Ivo thinks as he approaches the end, 'there is a pattern in the world, there is a way into the future.' Listening to the book has been immensely rewarding and enriching; the syllables flowed over me warm and exhilarating. I hope that all who hear it will enjoy it too.

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