Flu fog prompts a return to the classics

It seems to have been a Christmas of flu, covid and colds. Visits to the chemist were frequent from our house but the shelves of cold remedies were often empty as everyone sought relief from coughs and sneezes and blocked up noses. At one point, I couldn’t concentrate on reading a book or my Kindle, so I turned to audio books. With an audio book, someone else is doing the work. All you have to do is shut your eyes, snuggle down and set the timer so that if you fall asleep, you don’t miss too much.

I started with Jane Austen – the whole collection of six books. Most I had read, some a long time ago, but I was unprepared for how entertaining and witty Jane Austen’s narrative is when read aloud. The version I listened to used actors for some of the conversations, which added variety and brought the characters alive. The writing is of its era and can seem flowery and long-winded, but I loved it. As the stories unfolded, the manners of the time, the greatly differing attitudes towards men and women and the importance of money all shape the motives of the characters. Jane Austen was an expert in observing the minutia of the life of a small community and she used those observations to bring her characters to life.

I listened in the night when I couldn’t sleep, after lunch when I needed to rest, on a long car journey. I was devastated when the closing lines of Persuasion, the final novel in the collection, were read aloud and felt quite bereft.

So what next? Well the obvious choice was Charles Dickens, another great English author, familiar to us all through television and film dramatisations of his work. I am part way through Great Expectations, previously read when I was studying English Literature for O’level. The world of young Pip, struggling with his identity as a gentleman and his love for Estella, the adopted child of the ghoulish Miss Havisham, is proving just as enthralling. I will let you know how I go on.

Fortunately with Dickens, there are 15 novels, some of which I have never read, so I won’t be running out of listening material too soon!