from the archives: May 2013
Here's the bottom line of what you need to know: I listened to all 15+ hours of Prince of Midnight in like 3 days. This absolutely could not have happened, not even if I tried to force myself or guilt myself into it, if it hadn't been some really, truly amazing narration.
But let's see if I can expand on some of the experience.
I grew up in a family of blind and going-blind people, so the term"audio book" is still a little awkward for me. My grandmother got them on tape from the Kentucky Society for the Blind and played them on a big, clunky, state-issued tape recorder (my aunt still does), whose keys had braille symbols on them. (This never ceased to fascinate me, the whole idea of reading with your hands. To actually feel a story from beginning to end, let it pass silently from your fingertips to your brain, those tiny pinpricks that would build a whole world in your head.) Come to think of it, I still kinda want to learn braille. But my grandmother never did learn it, aside from the main symbols, which is why her reading was done via tape recorder. Anyway, we called them talking-books. And though from a young age I could sit still for ages with a paper book - and could listen to conversation for hours as I moved about the house - I could not for the life of me ever manage to be interested in a talking-book. Nothing was more sure to make me leave a room than the thunk of the Play button on that machine.
Hence my continued resistance to this audio book business. It's definitely more enticing when you start from the actual beginning, I'll say that. And the good volunteers at the Society for the Blind who read out everything from cooking magazines to Dickens did a great job, but their only goal was to read all the words in order, clearly. I never heard one who didn't sound like they were on break from recording a phone tree for the local bank.
Also, just so's you understand where I'm coming from, I briefly lived in both Italy and France, and know the languages well enough to be annoyed by bad accents and even slightly incorrect pronunciations.
The actual book
This is not the most beloved Kinsale in my (well-worn) library. This isn't because the writing is any less stellar, it's just that I never really felt it. The whole highwayman thing, I mean - not feelin it. Even the hero himself, really. While I can objectively see that he is a hunkahunkaburninlove and what have you, he just never did it for me. I think this is because I am probably a little too like the heroine in here. (Side note: thought it's not my most loved, I've still read it probably 20 times, and yet it was only on this read-through that I even considered that Leigh and I are, in many but not all ways, fuckin psychological twinsies.) The whole romance of being a highwayman? Meh, I ain't swept away. But - get a legendary highwayman to teach me how to swing a sword so I can gut my enemy in a well-earned revenge? FUCK YEAH. Falling in love immediately and declaring undying devotion based on - well, based on your own need for something to rhapsodize over (and put your penis into)? No, sorry - no attraction. Absurd. Buffoon. Fool. Even though of course he's far more than that, I just mean: this guy, he does not make me swoon. Even a little. He just is not my type.
I like the book more now I've heard the audio. SO THERE.
I don't know why. Because I wasn't locked into the character as my own head interpreted him, and I was forced to hear him differently? Because having a voice read it straight into my head forced a kind of closeness to the text? Because it's been a while since I read it and my brain's changed since the last time? Who knows? I'm just glad. I mean, it's still no Shadow and the Star, don't get me wrong, but my affection level has increased substantially.
The voices and the acting and the Nicholas Boulton of it all
So look, there is a REASON Laura is making a big deal about the narrator, okay? I feel like it's selling him massively short to call him a narrator, even. He's voice acting, and he ain't no slouch. To say the least. Some examples:
It was an utter joy to hear him not only pronounce all the French (and Italian) words correctly, but with a perfect intonation and regional-appropriate accents, even. Fuckin A, dude. Worth the price of admission, right there. Like I said, this is an especial peeve of mine, so I am probably putting outsized emphasis on it. But hey - my review, my priorities. Nyah.
He's a Brit, so I understand, and it was not a surprise that he did terrific British accents that ranged from Rye to Northumberland. It just added so much to the whole thing, to have this broad range of voices, none of which I myself could ever have come up with, in my head. Adds a whole flavor that I enjoyed immensely.
He's really, really good at this. No lie. Shit, no - he's amazing at this. He just becomes the story. It's fookin amazing and all.
It doesn't hurt that he has a voice that is soothing and calming at the same time as it's dead sexy. I mean, believe it or not, I actually care more about the competence more than the sexy-voice thing. But the sexy is a nice bonus.
AHHH MAKE THE NOOKIE STOP
This was unexpected.
I was in my living room, with the book playing - I guess I knew the nookie was coming up, I dunno. I was trying to straighten up a bit, picking up a couple of glasses and a plate from the coffee table when suddenly - well, let me transcribe:
Me: La di da, minding my own business...
Narrator: something mooonlight something something nipples som--
Narrator: He made a rough sound...
Me [voice rising an octave or three]: Don't do that! No sounds, no sounds! Stop with the sounds! What are you DOING?! [put down dishes, rush to the tablet, make shushing motions with hands as my eyes start watering]
Narrator: ...slid his palms somewhere somewhere flesh flesh flesh...
Me: Stop you don't have to read that part! It's okay, you can stop! Shh shh shh shh shh where's the button
Narrator: ...spreading submissively...
Me: Oh my god, spreading you don't have to tell about the spreading please please please
Then I just clapped my hands to my ears and went LALALA I CANT HEAR YOU LA LA OLD MACDONALD HAD A FARM MOTHERFUCKER STOP IT until I finally fumbled the buttons to turn the volume all the way down. Then I just stared at it, like it was a temporarily stunned viper that I had to figure out what to do with before it came back to life.
It was harrowing, I tell you. When the next bit o'nookie came up, I was sitting on the train. I thought I was prepared that time, but the instant nipples entered the picture (being teased, if I remember - what else are you gonna do with nipples?) I immediately yanked the earbuds out of my ears and willed myself to stop turning a violent shade of purple, as I looked around the train. It's like I thought I was going to be arrested or something. That night, at home, I sat in a dark closet and listened with my eyes closed as I hid behind my long winter coat - it was almost bearable that way. But then the next day, out come the goddamn nipples again. So I texted Laura that NIPPLES ARE A TRIGGER WORD, STOP WITH THE NIPPLES, PLEASE.
We laughed. And I realize I am a bit of a prude about these things, but two points:
1. On a personal level, this whole audible nookie business is problematical for me. Just as a public service announcement, let me say: don't talk to me during sex, okay? This is no time for a chat, man, and we both know there are much better things you can be doing with your mouth.
2. It is one thing to read a scorching hot nookie scene in black and white on a dead tree in the quiet of your own head. It is another thing entirely to suddenly find a man - a complete stranger - banging on about nipples and impetuous thrusts and passion and throbbing and waves of pleasure. Et cetera. One minute you're innocently sewing up a fallen hem on your trousers as a lovely novel is being read to you, and the next minute, some silky-voiced lothario is pouring hot sin into your ears. It's unnerving, I tell you.
I just want to say that this particular Kinsale novel gets flak for the heroine. And lately, I have been trying to at least understand other peoples's's's perceptions of characters/stories, even if I still think them ultimately wrong. So I listened objectively and I have to say that anyone who "just doesn't like" Leigh can take a flying leap. Yes, she has a problem with this man insisting he's in "love" with her after knowing her for approximately a day. Yes, she's scornful of him, but to think that this is "cruel" is absurd - is it her fault that he talked himself into a desperate aching love of her on sight, before he knew a thing about her? It's not like she was so sweet and then turned on him. He's clingy and needy and terrifying in how much of her he wants - she just wants her space, for him to give a shit about her boundaries. Plus, once you realize the trauma she's only recently been through, only an idiot would think her actions bitchy instead of an expression of her intense pain.
So I'm just saying: Leigh is great, and fuck you if you don't think so. Rar.
Also, the bit with the horse training, where he teaches her how to handle the rogue? That part always gets me, but I expected it - for whatever reason - to pack less of a punch in an audio format. Except that when it happened - when Leigh says "Oh look at you" and the horse follows her? Well, I was once again on the train for that bit and had to find a way to hide my face. Niagra falls, people.
This also happened (I was on the platform at Washington/Wells, at rush hour) when she said "I'm your balance." Waterworks. This is the writing. The fantastic narrator did his usual fantastic job, but it was more about him getting out of the way of the story and the character and the words. All the good stuff shines right through.
Will I listen-read again?
Well look - it's still not my thing. And I have to wonder if maybe it would be more my thing if I listened to a book I'd never read, where I didn't know what was next in the story. But I tried this very briefly yesterday, and it was a no-go. I am just so easily distracted. I'm sure it's all to do with the narrator, of course. My friend Rita loves audiobooks (mysteries, though) and she has a couple of narrators she loves, so I'll have to ask for a recommendation to try. It'd be nice to get sucked in, but I just don't know if this aural thing is really my bag.
For one thing, there are elements that, for whatever reason, get lost when I listen. Like for instance: sounds. I never realized how many sounds I had going in my head, along with the images. That horse-training scene - after I listened, I was thinking of it and realized that as I listened, I just heard his voice and the words and the story. I didn't hear hoofbeats and the horses blowing and the mutterings of the onlookers and the crack of the whip. I also wasn't seeing the dust rise up as the horses went by or the sun on the Seigneur's hair. Maybe other people don't have this problem, but I apparently can't imagine sounds and sights when concentrating on a voice telling me something.
I also like pausing on a word here and there, savoring a moment or a scene or a phrase, taking the story at my own pace. I don't get that option when someone is reading to me.
But. But. Even though I have NO desire to listen to Flowers from the Storm (because that book is flippin sacred to me, okay), I do want to hear just a few sentences of Durham talking, because he imitates Beau Brummel and I want to hear exactly what that sounds like. And I want to hear the little characters - the Calvins and Brunhilt and her mother, and even just the man in Chelsea selling eels live-o. I will probably do some highly selective skimming. And not because I think the voice-acting will be anything less than stunning. It's just that some things, I am selfish about. And that book is one of them.
I unexpectedly felt a little bereft at the end. I just want the story to keep going. And then after a few hours, I just wanted Nick in my ears again. I admit it made me feel a bit lonely, all of a sudden, to not have him talking to me all the time. I couldn't understand why he wasn't narrating me tying my shoes and feeding my cat and cursing at Excel spreadsheets. I couldn't believe he'd just leave me like that. After all those hours together! What a cad.
Yeah, so now I think I've tried all the available formats for book-reading. Paper, e-book, audio. Old-fashioned paper still wins. But audio is a really fun foray, I will say.