Saturday, 27 August 2011

Failed Adventures in Audio

My love affair with listening to audio books while I cook is in trouble. It all started so well. The Hand That First Held Mine blew me away, to the point where if I hear Samantha Bond’s voice anywhere my ears immediately prick up as if I must concentrate on exactly what she’s telling me.

After that I listened to What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. It’s set in Sydney and is about a woman on the verge of 40 who has an accident in the gym, hits her head and wakes up unable to remember the last ten years of her life. For what seems such a traumatic subject it was surprisingly light and airy. It’s for that reason I had to listen for several hours before falling in love with the characters and caring about what happened to them. I did though. After about six or seven hours (it was over 15 hours long in total) I realised I wanted to know how they reached their ending, even though I partially predicted it almost from the beginning. After I’d finished listening, I quite missed the characters. I wanted to know what Alice and the rest of the Love family were up to this week. I am 100% convinced this is due to the fact that I was a child brought up on Australian soap operas when they were at their most popular. I’m also convinced that had I been reading this book to myself, I would never have finished it. It was Caroline Lee’s lovely voice that stopped me quitting on something I ended up loving. 

I’m only just realising now how important voice is. It’s a very personal thing. What sounds rich and silky to one person, sounds like nails down a chalkboard to the next. Unlike a non-fiction audio book, where as long as you add enough light and shade to your voice you’ll probably be okay, fiction requires acting. As was pointed out to me this week, the narrator is your only connection to the story. It’s up to them to breathe life into the characters, give them voices and accents and make you want to hear their story. A nice voice convinced me to stick with a story I wasn’t sure of long enough for me to get it, and a voice I don’t like has turned me off another book entirely. 

This has happened with Roopa Farooki’s Corner Shop. The reviews were good and it looked like a story I could get on board with, but Tania Rodrigues’s voice just isn’t doing it for me. I’m sure she’s a great actress, but it’s all just a little bit BBC Evening News. And now I don’t know whether it’s just her voice annoying me, or if the story is a little dull too. Either way, I’m missing something. And it’s the same with My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira, although admittedly I haven’t given that much chance yet. It would be great if iTunes and Audible would allow more than a few seconds of preview audio. 30 seconds isn’t long enough to decide whether you want to have a long phone conversation with someone, let alone have them read to you for 15 hours. 

I’ve given up on books I wasn’t enjoying before, but audio books are quite rightly more expensive than standard books, so I feel I should try harder to get some value for money on something that cost £12 than something that cost £5 or £6. I also hit a bump in the road when I realised how few novels actually get recorded in audio form. During my initial flush of enthusiasm I added a long list of novels I was looking forward to hearing to my Amazon wishlist for safekeeping, only to find that just one or two of them actually existed in audio form. And sometimes the lucky chosen ones aren’t recorded until maybe a year after they’re initially published. Audio books seem to be the poor relation in the publishing world. What a minefield of disappointment! India Knight’s Comfort and Joy was published last year and I really wanted to read it but didn’t get around to it. I let out a choked scream when I tweeted her this week to ask if an audio version was in the works and she replied with a pleasing yes. (Half the scream was for the yes and half was just because India Knight tweeted me back.) 

So now what do I do? Do I keep expensively trying to match voice and story in the hope of finding another What Alice Forgot or, even better, hitting the voice/story jackpot and getting another The Hand That First Held Mine? I have an Audible account now, so I should at least be able to get one a month at a knockdown price. But still, now that I’ve regenerated my interest in reading fiction, that collection of stories sitting quietly in my Amazon wishlist is demanding attention like a cat with an empty food bowl. I haven’t got enough money to pay people with gorgeous voices to sit in my kitchen and read to me while I cook (volunteers welcome), so there’s only one thing for it - a Kindle. True, it won’t read to me like a real person, but at least it’s light and portable enough that I can hold it while I’m stirring multiple pots and pans and can flick the pages easily if I’m chopping vegetables etc. I’m expecting my already numerous kitchen related cuts and burn scars to increase threefold. 

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