The Understudy

David Nicholls, Author, Tristan Layton, Read by
David Nicholls, Author, Tristan Layton, Read by , read by Tristan Layton. HighBridge $34.95 (0p) ISBN 978-1-56511-987-1
Reviewed on: 12/05/2005
Release date: 09/01/2005
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Nicholls's wry romantic comedy about down-on-his-luck actor Stephen McQueen receives a royal audio treatment, complete with mood-setting music and Layton's seamless narration. With chameleon-like grace, Layton slips easily among the characters, from Stephen's genial, unremarkable British accent to the slippery suave tones of Josh Harper, whom Stephen understudies, and the flat American accent of Josh's smart, self-deprecating wife, Nora. Both narrator and music succeed in conveying Stephen's desperation at being 32, with a small number of bit parts to his credit and only one broken leg away from stepping into Josh's shoes as leading man. Convinced that all he needs is that single opportunity to turn his fortune around, Stephen makes a pact with Josh to help him deceive his wife about his extramarital liaisons, an agreement that slowly dissolves under the weight of Stephen's growing affection for Nora. An understated success, this audiobook is full of quiet but powerful realizations about life, love and the stark difference between reality and movie reality. There are moments where listeners will recognize the genius of this audio's orchestration, such as when Nicholls describes the enthusiasm of Stephen's daughter ebbing away like a wind-up toy running out of steam, and strains of a wind-up music box can be heard in the background. Simultaneous release with the Villard hardcover (Reviews, July 25). (Sept.)

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