Jigsaw (unabridged)

Audio Sample

Sybille Bedford


Read by Siân Thomas


Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1989, Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education is a semi-autobiographical novel that tells the story of Billi, a girl growing up in Europe between the two World Wars. Upon the death of her German baron father, Billi moves from the family château to live with her vibrant and erratic English mother on the French Riviera. From there she is sent for schooling in England, where she lives an itinerant life, boarding among a bohemian crowd, attending galleries and public lectures, and reading some of the greatest books of the era. Her ambition to become a writer is nurtured when she returns to the Mediterranean and meets a community of stimulating artists and intellectuals, including Aldous Huxley, while her mother’s life takes a tragic turn. Powerfully evocative and densely observed, Jigsaw assembles the puzzle pieces of the author’s life to paint a vivid portrait of a vanished age.

  • Running Time: 14 h 08 m

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    Digital ISBN:978-1-78198-457-4
    Cat. no.:NA0581
    Produced by:John Foley
    Edited by:Timothy Brown
    BISAC:FIC004000, FIC019000
    Released:March 23
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Billed as a semi-autobiographical novel, this audiobook is a meandering story told with steady maturity by Siân Thomas. Billi lives an unconventional life in 1920s Europe, first with her father in a chateau and later with her mother and various caretakers. Despite the story’s being centered on childhood and youth, there is a grandmotherly tone to Thomas’s voice that lends an unexpected sincerity to Billi’s recollections. The story itself is less consistent than the narration, but, overall, it’s appealing to hear Billi’s experiences as she grows up. Thomas does a fine job, and Bedford fans will likely enjoy this rendition of her work.

L.B.F., AudioFile

a great autobiographical intellectual novel!

If you needed reminding of how literature has changed in the last thirty years, listen to Jigsaw. It was published in 1989, the year Kazuo Ishiguro won the Booker Prize and 80 year-old Sybille Bedford’s Jigsaw was a runner up.

In recounting the life of Billi raised, like Sybille herself, in Germany in the early twentieth century, Jigsaw is a semi-biographical novel about the author’s own fractured life as she grows from childhood into an uneasy maturity. It’s densely packed with strikingly real characters with the webs of their complex lives and relationships, a proportion of them real-life, like Aldous Huxley amongst other writers and artists, and others created from imagination.

The book is also a ravishing travel book of the vividly recreated contrasting European places in the 1920s in all their painterly brilliance or their soul-destroying darkness where Billi and Sybille herself lived: Germany, Italy, the South of France and England .

When her German father dies, young Billi is sent away to live with her truly awful mother who was given to violent rages and heavy drinking and took pleasure in breaking all social conventions. She has married Alessandro, an Italian a great deal younger than herself. Later, the life of Billi’s ageing mother is a dramatic tragedy as, temporarily abandoned by Alessandro, she becomes increasingly addicted to morphine, rejects all attempts to help her and forces her wretched daughter to procure it for her.

This is a highly intellectual work of analysis as Sybille works with the pieces of the jigsaw which have made up her life. All the characters, genuine and created, are intensely intellectual whilst leading their apparently uncaring, selfish, hedonistic, emotionally chaotic, food and wine fuelled lives. Their indulgence in the latter can certainly become irritating.

It is staggering that English was not Sybille’s first language but only one in which she was fluent. One of the great pleasures of Jigsaw is the amount of French sometimes, but not always, subtly translated, and so beautifully incorporated seamlessly into the text by the narrator Sian Thomas.

Rachel Redford, Audible customer review

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