It revolves around bookish Neve and high-flying magazine schmoozer Max. Without wishing to reveal too much of the story, Neve decides she needs a trial relationship so she can practice the art of ‘being a girlfriend’ before the man she loves returns from his three-year academic placement in California. Max is the man to do it and it’s nothing but a mutually beneficial business arrangement. Maybe.
I was in love with Max within the first couple of hours of listening. I didn’t want to be. He seemed like the kind of man I wouldn’t touch with a 50ft barge pole had he been real, and yet, every time the narrator switched into Max’s deep, Northern accent, I was lost. In love with a fictional character - we’re in serious Mr. Darcy territory here. Maybe it was because I applied a slightly famous person’s rather gorgeous face, body and voice to the character, but those 18 hours of story time whizzed by.
Sarra Manning’s skill for writing rich, believable characters is spectacular and I’m impossibly envious. But that’s a good thing. This is the first book I’ve read in a very long time that’s given my need to tell stories of my own a big boot up the arse. It’s a wonderful thing to write a story so engrossing that it makes people shout out loud at the characters for making stupid decisions, laugh like nobody’s listening and cry because a moment of the characters’ sheer pleasure was so intense. Indeed, I carried out all these acts. I was also so engaged in a particularly fraught part of the book, that while listening in the bath I only realised the water had turned stone cold and all but a handful of bubbles had popped when I found myself shivering. It was worth every last goosebump. For those who have read it, it was the scene that plays out at the garden party. Fingers on lips. No spoilers. The first thing I did at the very end was load up Spotify and blast Dusty Springfield singing the title tune. It was bliss!
This past week I’ve spent hours trying to find my next audio book. I’ve listened to the extended narration samples, read various synopses and glanced over reviews. The fact remains that good audio books are still difficult to come by. I still have an Amazon wishlist full of paperbacks without narrators. I tried looking for other books narrated by Julie Maisey, but every sample I listened to seemed weird. At one point I thought “Why are you giving Celia’s voice to some other random character?” Even though I’ve chosen a new audio book (A Vision of Loveliness by Louise Levene) my mind is still in London with Neve and Co. It’s still with me. There’s a very good chance I’ll be listening all over again at some point. Maybe over the Christmas holidays as a lovely treat. And I’ll be needing a proper copy, so I can flick through the memories whenever I need them.