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Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

This was my first foray into the world of audio books, and I’m not sure it was the greatest place to start.  The narrator had a really deep, smooth voice.  I could imagine him reading me to sleep, lulling me with his rich tones – not a great feature when driving!

Half Blood Blues is about Sid Griffiths, a Jazz musician living and plying his trade along with the band in 1930s Berlin.  They are forced to flee to Paris to escape “the Boots” (i.e. the SS) after an incident in which Sid’s oldest friend and band mate Charles “Chip” Jones kills one of them in a fight.  They cannot outrun the war though which catches up with them in Paris.  One of the band members is a young man called Hero, who is a brilliant trumpeteer.  Sid struggles with conflicting emotions towards Hero – part jealously, part rivalry, part very protective and brotherly.  Hero is a stateless citizen – a Rhineland bastard, who is taken by the Nazis when the war arrives in Paris, whilst Sid watches on and does nothing to help.  His enormous guilt about this stays with him for his whole life until it comes to ahead more than 40 years later when he returns to Berlin.

I found Sid quite a difficult character to like.  He seemed to take everything so very seriously, and very personally.  He was quick to over analyse situations and to imagine he had been slighted.  His jealousy towards Hero was petty and seemed to border on genuine dislike at times.

This book can be quite slow in parts, and in particular the love story between Sid and Delilah.  This dominates the middle section of the book and too much time is devoted to it in my opinion.  In spite of the tendency to drag in parts, there is some really top quality writing on display.  In particular, the scene in which the group are trying to get a train out of Paris to escape before the Nazis arrive is so vivid.  The sheer chaos, terror and stench of human panic is tangible as everyone presses like herded cattle into the station with whatever belongings they can carry, desperate for a ticket out of there.

The real highlight of the story for me is the relationship between Sid and Chip.  They are boyhood friends and half the time they don’t seem to even like each other.  But underneath all of that is a real unbreakable bond – they truly are brothers.  Some of Sid’s actions in the book are quite unforgivable, but Chip stands by him and is there for Sid when he needs him the most.

The ending seemed to be very abrupt.  I’m not sure whether this just comes down to listening to it as an audio book as I cannot then see how much is left to go.

It took a while for me to get into this book and there were points where my interest started to drift in the slow parts.  I didn’t really warm to Sid very much.  However, the writing was good, the story is memorable and there are a few moments that made me chuckle, which I think is important when dealing with such serious subject matter.

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Taking back the commute – listening to audio books

There was a brief period last year between moving house and changing jobs when I was commuting to work on the Metro trains.  For those 6 weeks, I read more than I have ever done before.  The Metro journey was only 20 minutes each way, but those 20 minutes belonged to me and my reading.  I just gobbled up books during that period – it was fantastic.

Then I started a new job in a town just over 20 miles away and so I was commuting by car.  The extra reading time was lost, or so I thought.

A couple of months ago, I became absolutely sick and tired of listening to the same songs played on the radio over and over again, and so I decided to try something a bit different – I borrowed an audio book from the library.

It took a little bit of getting used to at first.  I started off with Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, which I found a little hard to follow for the first few tracks on the CD as I got used to being read a story rather than reading it myself.  But once I had settled in, I really enjoyed listening to the story and now I am a total addict.

It is very rare that I will have more than one book on the go at the same time, and I was a bit concerned about getting confused between the audio book and paper book.  I need not have worried though as the audio book is very much in the car, so when I shut the car door I can leave it behind, then pick it right up again when I get back in.

The one drawback of listening to audio books is that I can’t read back over what has just happened when I get back in the car.  I’m not sure if I can rewind CDs or not, so if it has been a couple of days since I have driven, I am dropped back in the middle of where I left off, and can’t always remember exactly what happened immediately before, but it has been quite easy so far to pick up the thread again.  I do think that listening to the story adds an extra dimension to it as well – the reader is important as they do help bring the characters to life and help in creating the impression of the characters.

I always had the impression that audio books were just for old ladies.  I thought that I would find a library full of Catherine Cooksons and Agatha Christies and nothing much else.  I was really pleasantly surprised by the huge array of books on offer, modern and old, in all genres and for all age groups.

So through audio books, I have taken back the commute as my time for reading, and once more I am reading more than I ever have before.