Some people choose books by their covers; I often choose talking books by their narrators.
A bad narrator can ruin even a good book, and if you are unlucky enough to get a poor performer and a mediocre work, it’s excruciating. Particularly if sex scenes are involved.
Good narrators bring the book to life with their faultless timing and great characterisations. No easy task and I speak from bitter experience, having narrated a few Books for the Blind in my youth. I remember one attempt at a German accent which still makes me wince when I think of it. For a talking book, narration is a skill quite as important as writing, and arguably more difficult to find.
What makes a duff narrator? Well, since I listen while driving, I especially dislike the sleep-inducing effect of monotonous voices. Fake accents, nasty nasal or whiny voices, mispronunciation, overacting, underacting and bad timing also bring about road rage.
At the risk of sounding sexist, I prefer male narrators for most books, simply because they do a better job of female voices than female narrators do when impersonating males. I suspect it’s something to do with the vocal cords, but for every male narrator who makes his females sound like drag queens, I find half a dozen females whose attempts to sound masculine are forced or ludicrous. I gave up on one historical novel, not only because Henry VIII had an American accent, but because the narrator made him sound uncannily like Yogi Bear.
- Alex Jennings, who can read a Dickens or Dostoyevsky with a cast of thousands and yet give every character their own voice.
- Tim Curry reads the Lemony Snicket books with great verve.
- Jonathan Cecil does a great upper-class twit Bertie and omniscient Jeeves in the P. G. Wodehouse books.
- Simon Slater – some people found Wolf Hall difficult because they couldn’t work out who was speaking – you won’t have that trouble with this audio version.
- Juliet Stevenson – a fine and versatile narrator.
One thing I love about the OverDrive downloadable audio books is being able to listen to an excerpt and find out in advance if the narrator’s voice is as annoying as a child asking for ice-cream in a supermarket queue.
Who are your audio stars? And do you agree with my preference for male narrators?