I’ve finished listening to the audio version of David Marr’s The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell during night-feeds of my nine-week old son, a slightly surreal and disturbing companion at 2:30am each morning. It’s the original Quarterly Essay edition of 2013; the print version of this edition is 124 pages, while the expanded 2014 edition is 210 pages.

The Prince is an interesting form of thematic biography – examining Pell’s life and career through the lens of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. Pell’s childhood and early life are narrated in order to set up an account of his rigid and uncompassionate response to sexual abuse as a bishop and cardinal. It is a fruitful approach for biography, and something I think we will and should see more of – instead of attempting to tell all that is important about a life, this approach deliberately confines itself to one aspect. It makes it easier to turn the complexities of life into a story and hold the reader’s attention.

I always find Marr compulsively readable – probably because of his clear, taut prose and his control of detail. He also manages to combine a slightly detached journalistic voice with a strongly-argued agenda, an unlikely and gripping combination.

I suspect that many biographies do not translate well to audio books. There are too many characters and complexities; the listener does not have the luxury the reader has of consulting the index or skipping back to a character’s previous appearance. However, Marr’s biography in this case is focused enough and simple enough to keep track of. What do you think?

For readers in Western Australia (and probably other states too): I highly recommend the new-ish app, Borrow Box – it has an impressive range of audio-books and ebooks to download for loan, with access provided by public libraries.