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18Feb

Double Blind by Edward St Aubyn audiobook review – Cumberbatch revels in caustic wit

The Sherlock actor breathes life into the intertwined narratives of a group of thirtysomething professionals, spiked with flashes of caustic wit

Following his remarkable performance in the TV adaptation of Edward St Aubyn’s autobiographical series Patrick Melrose, it feels fitting that Benedict Cumberbatch should provide the narration for the author’s 10th novel. Double Blind follows a group of thirtysomething professionals, all dedicated in different ways to the advancement of ideas; among them is Francis, a botanist overseeing the rewilding of a country estate in Sussex, and his new girlfriend, Olivia, a biologist with a keen interest in epigenetics. There’s also Olivia’s best friend, Lucy, whom we meet boarding a plane from America to run a new venture capital firm, and who has just rejected a marriage proposal from her mega-rich boyfriend; and Lucy’s new employer, Hunter, a tech entrepreneur and hedge fund billionaire who owns a ranch called Apocalypse Now. Meanwhile, Olivia’s psychotherapist father, Martin, is treating a man with schizophrenia who has a secret connection to the family.

Cumberbatch glides smoothly between these intertwined narratives, breathing life into the characters and revelling in the flashes of caustic wit. He also makes impressively light work of the protagonists’ rambling interior monologues on such subjects as immunology, ecology, bioethics and neuroscience; these passages can be stodgy on the page but are more digestible in audio. Deploying various accents and voices, the actor also has fun with St Aubyn’s peripheral figures, from the comically sinister Vatican priest trying to pull off an outlandish business deal to Hunter’s cocaine-addled sidekick Saul who “had always spoken rapidly but on that [day] he was sprinting to the next full stop like an athlete trying to break a record”.

Double Blind is available from Penguin Audio, 7hr 46min.

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