Friday, October 03, 2014

Audio Files: The British Invasion

I read an article last week about the resurgence in podcasts, downloadable audio series whose listeners are “committed for 20 minutes” to stories and articles longer than those typically broadcast on the radio.  I laughed at the idea of 20 minutes, since I was four hours into a 12 and a half hour audio book, JoJo Moyes’s One Plus One, a commitment slightly more serious than 20 minutes. So far, it seems to be a more cheerful successor to her also excellent Me Before You. Jess, the single mother of a young daughter who is a math whiz and the stepmother of a teenage victim of bullying, embarks with her family on a road trip to Scotland with the help of a tech millionaire under investigation for insider trading. Several performers give lively voice to its various narrators, in enchanting English accents.

I just finished listening to The Silkworm, by John Galbraith (a. k. a. J. K. Rowling). My J. K. Rowling experience has been all-aural: I listened to every one of the Harry Potter books, entranced by Jim Dale’s narration. I also listened to Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, which was not particularly well-reviewed. I think if its critics had listened to it instead, they might have been more favorably inclined. As Harry Potter fans know, Rowling has a keen ear for class differences in speech, and British actor Tom Hollander brings out every delicious nuance in this intricate tale of hidden conflict in a small English town. Using the Galbraith pseudonym, Rowling ventured into crime fiction with The Cuckoo’s Calling, featuring unlikely hero Cormoran Strike. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Strike returned home minus a leg to try his hand as a private investigator, without much success. His luck changes when he is hired to investigate the apparent suicide of a glamorous model. Strike returns in The Silkworm, this time to solve the grisly murder of an eccentric novelist, whose last manuscript appears to reveal the dirty secrets of Britain’s biggest literary personalities. Rowling’s delicious skewering of the publishing world she knows so well is a cherry on top of a well-crafted whodunit. As in The Casual Vacancy, dialog is everything in both Cormoran Strike books, and how better to appreciate dialog than to listen to it?

My next audiobook is Irish, for a change of pace! Tana French’s The Secret Place, the latest installment of her "Dublin Murder Squad" series, is already on the bestseller lists. Although these dark crime thrillers, each featuring a different detective and a different crime, can be read independently, I think they are best appreciated in order.  Ireland’s changing economic circumstances unfold in the background, and the detectives are seen through each others’ eyes, their backstories revealed slowly. I jumped the queue and listened to Broken Harbor first, and then went back for the first three: In the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place.  All are narrated by well-known Irish actors whose accents are as compelling as the stories they read.
Also on my audio horizon is The Long Way Home, the latest installment in Louise Penny’s series featuring (recently retired) Chief Inspector Gamache. Inspector Gamache is French Canadian, so there’s an accent to be enjoyed here, too, although the series’ award-winning narrator, Ralph Cosham, is English-born, not Quebecois.  A fun bit of trivia about Cosham and Penny: they have never met; nor has Penny ever listened to any of his recordings, for fear that they will influence her own idea of Gamache. And Cosham does not read the books before he records them, so he is as much in the dark as the story progresses as the Inspector and we are.  If Cosham won't read the book, I won’t read the flap!

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