I really want to love audiobooks. I have a whole bunch lined up on Audible, and I’ll have the odd fit of listening to them while exercising or while crocheting, but I find them really hard to stick to. I want to devour my books at a heck of a pace, which I guess is part of it: sure, I can turn up the speed of the narration, but I’m still very aware I could be reading faster myself. Admittedly not at the same time as crocheting or something, but still, the slowness grates on me. The tedious bits in some books just drag out for ages and ages with an audiobook, whereas in a paperback I’d be past them in a twinkling. (And yet I hate using the skip forward function in an audiobook. What if I miss something?!)
I think I also find it harder to process the story when I’m hearing it read to me. Adaptations are different: if the BBC adapted every book ever into radioplays, I’d be right there and all over it. I love the BBC radioplays — The Lord of the Rings andthe Peter Wimsey books are just wonderful, as far as I’m concerned. Okay, sometimes the voice casting isn’t quite right, but most often it really is — sorry, Andy Serkis, but Gollum for me is Peter Woodthorpe, forever and ever amen. (Likewise, Bill Nighy is the real Sam Gamgee.)
So I think it’s probably partly that books are usually written to be read, not performed. An adaptation cuts the stuff that doesn’t work in audio, which is why I get on well with it — in fact, I might even get on better with an adaptation than with the source text if it cuts out the kind of thing I don’t pay attention to, like tons of visual description.
A good narrator can sometimes make an audiobook worth it for me, but still… for the most part, I remain unconvinced.
So what do you get from audiobooks that makes them viable for you? Or maybe you’re like me, and you can’t get on with them?
Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, Sarah Badel as Harriet Vane and Peter Jones as Bunter
Busman’s Honeymoon, or: the Wimseys will never, ever catch a break.
Honestly, despite the fact that it is a murder investigation, this one is fun. It has plenty of Peter-Harriet banter, plenty of Bunter being the ridiculously amazing manservant that he is, and plenty of heart as well. Peter and Harriet have finally got married, and they’re letting each other in, and Busman’s Honeymoon sees their first hiccups of married life — where Peter’s work as a detective makes Harriet feel like a traitor to friends who are under suspicion, and they have to decide who compromises… I like Sarah Badel’s version of Harriet, laughing and teasing, but warm too.
It’s not just about the relationship, though: there’s a solid mystery at the back of it, which is fun in its own right. And at least with this one, you really feel no pity for the criminal…
Featuring Joanna David as Harriet Vane and Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey
Gaudy Night is the odd one out in both the radioplays and the books. It was recorded later, I think, and it shows — Ian Carmichael sounds almost winded half the time, though it does get better as the book goes on. It’s quite a different tone, too, because it’s from Harriet’s point of view. In the audiobook, this involves a fair amount of first person narration of her thoughts and feelings, which was never a feature of the other audiobooks, which makes it stand out as well.
That said, it’s a pretty good adaptation, drawing together all the key features well and giving clues through the voice acting as well as the plot. In audio, it’s a little hard to keep track of all the female dons, but that doesn’t seem to get in the way too much. And Harriet’s realisation of her feelings for Peter is well done; I think I prefer Sarah Badel’s take on it in Busman’s Honeymoon, but it works.
Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey and Peter Jones as Bunter
The Nine Tailors is a book I think about fondly, although I can’t quite think of why. Some of it is the atmosphere, I think: the Englishness of this little village in the Fens, and the music of the bells woven all through the story — or, not music exactly, but the complex mathematical patterns of British bell-ringing. In a way, that’s how this mystery feels, too: it’s complex, with several mistaken identities and a long unsolved mystery. It’s also a sad one, because a family gets shattered through almost no fault of their own.
And the Reverend and his household are dear characters, of course.
The audio adaptation is pretty good, managing to make all the complex threads come together well. Ian Carmichael’s voice acting is great most of the time, though maybe a trifle overblown during the scene in the belfry. I guess it’s difficult to portray that scene without Peter constantly vocalising, though.
This is a fun story in terms of the whole idea of Peter being undercover, actually working for his living in an advertising company. Here it makes perfect sense that he’s great at it, and the way he pokes around shamelessly is a delight. I’m not so enamoured of any of the secondary characters in this one, though: Parker barely appears, Bunter and Harriet are entirely absent, and the other characters are all new (and confined to this mystery). It remains fun, but it’s not one of the ones that get me emotionally engaged.
It doesn’t help that in the radioplays, Gabriel Woolf no longer voices Parker; it’s someone else, whose voice doesn’t fit half so well. It might if we’d never had Woolf, but as it is, it’s very distracting. I know exactly how the real Parker would say those lines, and this guy is all wrong… It’s much worse than the changing voice actors for Harriet, somehow.
The ending is an interesting one, in terms of Peter’s moral responsibilities. Several times he ends up having pity on the people who have, after all, committed crimes, and giving them an easy way out. They don’t escape to live perfect lives, of course, but all the same, Peter doesn’t hand them over to justice and punishment. It’s something only a gentleman detective could or would do, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.
Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance, Richard C. Francis, read by Kurt Elftmann
Epigenetics is one area of science that just delights me — even the fact that it really irritates people because of potentially Lamarckian interpretations kind of amuses me. It’s based on solid research about the large scale effect observed from the ‘Dutch Hunger Winter’, and the impact it had on the gene expression of not only children of those who went through it, but grandchildren as well. Given the solidity of that research, it always weirds me out when people want to claim epigenetics is just the latest fad, like it’s not valid. It explains a lot, and we know its mechanisms and can predict its effects: isn’t that enough?
This book is a reasonable introduction to the subject, simple enough for a complete layman to understand. In fact, at times it almost detours away from science into literary criticism, discussing the portrayal of PTSD in different characters in a particular movie. It’s relevant as an example, but there’s so much space spent on it, it was a bit irritating — especially if you know nothing of the movie. It also covers pretty basic science, explaining not only how epigenetics works (in a very basic sense), but also how genetics works.
I actually listened to this as an audiobook, while crocheting, and though I have no specific complaints to make of the narrator, neither did he fill me with any kind of enthusiasm. I’m not sure if that’s how I’ll universally feel about non-fiction audiobooks, since of course, the reader doesn’t need to act. Still, he’s saying these awesome things about how our bodies work, and he sounds like he’s reading out a recipe for bread. It feels weird!
Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey and Maria Aitken as Harriet Vane
I’ve always loved this book, particularly for the first lines:
The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth.
The rest of it continues as delightful, and while the BBC radioplay version doesn’t include the narrative stuff like that, it does include a lot of the delightful back and forth between Harriet and Peter — and, beautifully, the wrenching conversation they have when she wants to fight about it. Maria Aitken and Ian Carmichael do an excellent job, and honestly, that partnership is more the attraction when it comes to this book than the mystery plot. Though there are some fun puzzles and red herrings in that too, of course. Still, objectively, Sayers’ books were better when Peter was engaged emotionally, and it isn’t just a puzzle-plot like Five Red Herrings, and that shows with my affection for this one.
Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey and Peter Jones as Bunter
I have to confess I got an awful shock when Inspector Parker made his brief appearance in this book — it’s no longer Gabriel Woolf! I knew it was coming, but gah, I hate the transition every time. And it doesn’t really help that this might be my least favourite of the mysteries: in the original book, it relies on suppressing information that, in the end, wouldn’t actually help the uninformed reader that much. At least that doesn’t happen in this version, but it’s also a murder mystery worked to a very specific timetable, and on a second, third or fourth reading it gets a little tedious. To me, anyway. I’m sure there’s someone for whom Five Red Herrings is their favourite.
Of course, the attraction in Sayers’ clever dialogue and Ian Carmichael’s perfect delivery remains, and with some crochet to occupy my hands, it’s still a pleasant interlude.
Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, Peter Jones as Bunter and Gabriel Woolf as Inspector Parker
For some reason, I can’t find the name of the person who voiced Harriet, and my Audible file doesn’t seem to include that intro. Blast. Still, Strong Poison is mostly not about Harriet, and she appears comparatively little — really, it’s about Lord Peter getting to be a knight in shining armour, and he really starts escalating toward sainthood in his actions here, how he comes to save her and doesn’t push and so on. If you look at it with a cynical eye, it’s all rather obvious lionising of the character.
Still, if you’re a fan of Lord Peter, you can lay that aside and just enjoy him sleuthing away on the trail of the real murderer, plus his sudden feelings for Harriet. The voice acting is excellent, as usual: Ian Carmichael is the perfect Peter, and there’s an awesome little scene with Inspector Parker about Mary which I just had to listen to twice for the fun of it. The adaptation is pretty good, with most details preserved — even down to whole sections of piffle from Wimsey and his mother, and the exact content of various scenes — and though the mystery is a little trimmed down here and there, I think you could almost switch off between the book and the radioplay scenes without losing anything in understanding.
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is all about audiobooks! I haven’t actually listened to that many audiobooks, at least not by distinct authors, but I do have a couple of recommendations.
The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper (BBC radioplay). I don’t know if there’s any way to actually get your hands on this if you don’t happen to have recorded it for yourself way back when, but I always found the casting perfect and the adaptation solid. It doesn’t keep every single feature of the original book, but it keeps to the spirit of it — unlike the movie version which, as far as I’m concerned, doesn’t exist.
Strong Poison, by Dorothy L. Sayers (BBC radioplay). You’ll notice that I’m quite a big fan of the BBC’s radioplays in general, and that’s because they generally have really good production quality, their adaptations are solid if not absolutely faithful, and they’re usually well cast. This is no exception, with a perfect Lord Peter and a great supporting cast too.
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (BBC radioplay). Yes, another! It’s really well cast, there’s some music, and it’s pretty faithful — and it skips some of the bits people usually find boring, like Tom Bombadil. I wasn’t 100% a fan of Aragorn’s voice at first, but it grew on me.
Among Others, by Jo Walton (Katherine Kellgren). I was a little nervous when I started to listen to this, because the voice had to be just right. Fortunately, it is — and with a lovely Welsh accent as well.
The Collectors, by Philip Pullman (Bill Nighy). A neat little mystery, and very bitesize too. Bill Nighy does a great job at the narration.
Beowulf, by Seamus Heaney (Seamus Heaney). It might not be the most faithful or scholarly translation, but it’s one that feels very much alive.
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman (Neil Gaiman). The same goes for pretty much any book written and read by Neil Gaiman — not all authors are good at reading their own work, but Gaiman has got it down. There’s a warmth to his voice that just works perfectly.
Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman (Martin Jarvis). The book’s a hell of a lot of fun, and this narrator ‘does the voices’ and really brings across characterisation and delivers the jokes perfectly. My only complaint was that it doesn’t have many natural breaks.
The Martian, by Andy Weir (R.C. Bray). I haven’t finished listening to this one yet, but so far the narrator does a pretty good job. He doesn’t always deliver all the lines with feelings, but the deadpan delivery of some bits of it is just perfect. And it’s a book worth reading just for itself.
Busman’s Honeymoon, by Dorothy L. Sayers (BBC radioplay). I’ll sneak this in as number ten — Ian Carmichael remains perfect, and this one made me giggle a lot, dealing as it does with Harriet and Peter’s honeymoon… and all that goes wrong.
Any recommendations? I’m always looking for something to spend my Audible credits on!