I do a fair amount of work-related driving. This week even more so as I anticipated spending over two hours a day traveling to and from South Carolina. Normally, the idea of getting into the car and driving around town without an audio book does not make me break out in a cold sweat. But long-distance driving is quite another matter, so I figured it would be a very good time to "read" Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, which is something I've been meaning to do ever since I finished State of Wonder.
I am currently on disc 5 of 9, which brings me a little more than half-way through, and I like the story line quite a bit. World famous opera soprano, Roxane Coss, is engaged to sing at the palatial home of the vice-president of an unnamed South American country following a dinner party to celebrate the birthday of the chairman of a large Japanese electronics company. The party is attended by rollers and shakers of industry and politically powerful personages. The president of the unidentified country is supposed to be in attendance as well; however, the party falls on the evening his favorite soap opera is scheduled to reach its denouement. He sends his regrets at the last minute. Meanwhile, a terrorist organization has composed a plot to break into the house at the height of the festivities and kidnap the president. The break-in is successful, but for obvious reasons the kidnapping is a bust. The terrorists take everyone who is in attendance hostage instead.
That is about all of the plot line I'm going to reveal, except to say a lot of the book is character study and is very well written - at least as far as I have come in the book. Let's tally this up so far: Plot line: Very good; Writing: Excellent; Character development: Insightful. So why am I not loving this book? Narration. Narration, dear readers, can kill a good book quite dead.
Because the aforementioned gala event is attended by multi-national glitterati, there are a lot of foreign accents to be heard among the crowd. That's okay when the reader is reading inside the reader's head. The mind sort of fills in the blanks without much notice. But in narration? Well, let's say in this particular instance it goes something like this:
Russian guest (predicable low voice): "OH-prra eez wary eemporrtahnt een my cowntry."
Spanish guest: (higher voice) "Eees eet polithicul or-r-r museeecul? Joo cahn nevahrrrr thell."
Japanese guest (halting sotto voce): Well, there's just no way to type it, but it reminds me of Ming the Merciless in the old Flash Gordon television series.
It's a shame, really, to subject an otherwise very worthwhile book to linguistic torture. And it is only because it is very worthwhile that I will soldier on until the end. My advice to actors who wish to pursue a career in the book-reading biz is to ditch the phony accents. Because unless you're David Suchet or Meryl Streep, it seldom works and you will only accomplish ruining the experience for the poor reader who, like me, is trapped inside their car contending with foul weather, traffic jams and road construction. Is it too much to ask that you simply read the words?
As the Russian said, shaking his head, "Eees so wary froostrrating." I hear you, pal. I feel the same way.
I have one very good book on audio (Anathem), and even though my kids both want to read it, we haven't been able to listen to it in the car while driving them back and forth to college because the narrator's voice is soporific. Not what we need on I-80 through Iowa.
I listened to Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go on audio read by Rosalyn Landor. Her voice was perfect. It neither added to nor detracted from the text. In other words it did not impose itself at all. If you are listening to an audio book, and you're not being distracted by the voice or the accent or other impositions placed on the text by the narrator, that in my view is a good "book reader." And, you're right, not a good idea to get hypnotized cruising down the interstate!ReplyDelete
Golly! I read this normally and enjoyed it (although it didn't stay with me; I'm not sure why), and I can only just imagine those accents out loud. I feel for you--and admire you for soldiering on.ReplyDelete
Tinky, the Russian accent...eet hass crreated a brrain verm een my headth. (Not sure I'll ever be the same). I liked State of Wonder much better. Probably because I actually read the book-book. The audio distracted me from the writing and the story line, so I think I missed certain nuances.ReplyDelete
Oh Grad, you made me laugh! I do feel for you. The book itself might be excellent but a bad narrator can completely ruin it. One of the dangers of audiobooks and one of the reasons I avoid them completely.ReplyDelete
P.S. you are changing your blog look! Very nice. The "advertisement" cracked me up :)ReplyDelete
The background is the artwork from the end papers of The Tall Book Of Make-Believe by Garth Williams. I was feeling nostalgic and thought I'd wallpaper The Curious Reader with it for awhile. Like all wallpaper, I'll eventually have to paint over it, I guess.Delete
Stephanie, I should have learned my lesson long ago. I never enjoy an audio book as much as I do reading the book itself, but I lost my Led Zeppelin CDs and NPR fades in and out when I'm traveling. Nothing screams boredom more than watching the center line on the highway. So, I persevere. Although, I will say that Agatha Christie travels quite well in audio for some reason. Problem is, I've listened to the library's entire collection so far.ReplyDelete
I love me a good audio book, but I am aware I'm totally influenced by the reader's voice. Yes, David Suchet and Meryl Streep can do just anything!ReplyDelete
Smithereens, I think Agatha Christie travels so well because of the British accent. And if it's Poirot, David Suchet is usually the narrator and he is, of course, THE Poirot himself. I just started listening to The Light Between Oceans, which is being read by an Australian actor, and his voice actually adds to the enjoyment of the book.ReplyDelete
The reader makes ALL the difference in an audiobook. I only recently became an audiobook convert myself. One of the best I've come across is Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone. Elizabeth McGovern (Cora from Downton Abbey) reads it and she's AMAZING. Good story too.ReplyDelete
Bigreadinglife, thank you so much for telling me about it! As I said, I'm in my car quite a bit for work, and I take a couple of road trips to Virginia and Maryland every year. I prefer spending the time with a book. I'll have to check my library for it. If you have any other recommendations please pass them my way.ReplyDelete
Agree. I'm also not keen on those arch actress-y voices that the BBC seem to love! I read Bel Canto and I loved the way Ann Patchett wrote about art and opera, but I didn't completely believe in the plot towards the end.ReplyDelete
Vintage, one day I will actually read Bel Canto, since I don't think it is fair of me to judge it by the audio version. As it stands, I liked State of Wonder much, much better. The fact that it was an actual book probably has something to do with it. I agree with you completely about the plot, by the way.ReplyDelete
This is a highly readable book with characters who will remain etched in your mind. "Bel Canto" is a great reading experience for a wide audience.ReplyDelete