Review: Remains Of The Day Audiobook

For a change I thought I’d review a book. Seeing as reviewing an ordinary ebook is essentially the same as reviewing the device you’re reading it from, I thought I’d go with an audiobook instead.

Audiobooks have become a staple of my reading habits. I cycle to work, so don’t have the luxury of reading on public transport. But I still like consuming stories in whatever way I can. My ideal book is one I could read part of in text, part of in audio, all synced between iPhone, Kindle, iPad and my computer. Because that’s not yet possible without a ridiculous amount of manual searching for your place, I usually have about four or five books on the boil at once, all on different devices. This, you might argue, is the product of a lack of concentration. I won’t disagree with you.

Having said that, the audiobook of The Remains of the Day was an absolute pleasure to listen to; a book that made me relish getting on my bike and riding, even on cold, hungover mornings. For those who don’t know the story, it’s an historical novel about an English butler named Mr Stevens. Stevens is an unreliable narrator, telling his story of the last great years of his time as a butler in recollection as he takes a ‘motoring trip’ across England to visit Miss Kenton, a woman who used to work with Stevens at Darlington Hall.

The book is narrated by the actor Nigel Hawthorne (best known for his role as Sir Humphrey Appleby in the TV show Yes, Minister). Hawthorne gets the tone of the book exactly right, and Stevens’s accent pitch-perfect. Audiobooks that are read by the wrong person or by someone who doesn’t seem to understand the tone of the book can completely ruin a story. In contrast, with the right voice actor the book seems to come alive. All the repression, self-censorship and selective memories vividly bubble under the surface in this reading – although Stevens never makes clear any of his personal feelings, you get the sense that they are just there, like the voice at the other end of a telephone line.

How does everyone else feel about audiobooks? Have you ever listened to one? Do you consider it ‘real’ reading or a pale imitation?

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Joel Naoum

Joel Naoum is a Sydney-based book editor, publisher, blogger and writer. He is passionate about the possibilities of social media and digital publishing opens up for authors, publishers, booksellers and the whole book industry.

10 thoughts on “Review: Remains Of The Day Audiobook”

  1. Ooh, audiobooks! I have three experiences to relate…

    The first is listening to a cassette (remember them?) recording of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” as a small child. It was read by someone with the best RP British accent money can buy. It was a very important in the development of my reading confidence, because I was very, very young and had not tackled a book of that size before. I listened to the tape with the book on my lap, and the slower pace of the tape to my normal reading speed forced my eyes to take in every word.

    My second audiobook experience was the foolhardy adventure of listening to a cassette recording of Bram Stoker’s Dracula at school when I was 10. It was a “privilege” I had earned for doing something teacher-pleasing in class. It frightened me out of my living wits, but such was the hypnotic quality of the reader’s (suitably menacing) voice that I could not remove my headphones. I spent the next three years keeping bulbs of garlic in my pocket and refusing to sleep with the lights turned off. Serves me right for being such a swot.

    At university, and, frankly, not much of a student, one habit I had to force my very poor concentration was to go to the library and find an audiobook recording of whatever play or novel I was supposed to have read. That way I could time how much of my life would be devoted to the text in question (the total minutes handily printed on the box), listen, make notes and get at least some vague contextual understanding of the appeal the book had for people based on the enthusiasm of the reader’s voice. Not exactly the bedrock principle of the modern university but, hey, I got my degrees in the end.

    Remains of the Day, by the way, is a firm favourite. I cried buckets. Absolute buckets.

    1. Hah! Well said. It’s a great point about studying actually. I feel like I’m reading all the time nowadays, so it’s a bit easier on the brain to listen to an audiobook.

  2. I used to listen to audiobooks and audio dramas (like the Dr Who audio dramas made by Big Finish in the UK) when I did a lot of driving to and from work. But now that I work from home (I’m a stay-at-home-dad and author) I haven’t listened to one in ages. Your post has made me think I should give audio books a go again.

    1. Definitely worth a go. They’re actually great for doing tasks that don’t require a great deal of brain power – stuff like housework, driving or even cooking.

  3. I think I am not an auditory person at all. When I have attempted to listen to audiobooks or recordings of tutorials or anything of that nature, I find myself drifting off quickly … I have not even tried an audiobook in quite a while for that reason. Apart from which I have no need – there is (thankfully) plenty of space in my life for reading.
    PS – Have added The Remains of the Day to my reading list – thanks !

    1. Great to hear you’ve added Remains of the Day to your reading list – would love to hear what you think. I think a lot of people feel similarly to you about audiobooks. But I guess I like to cram every spare moment with reading (even when it’s technically impossible).

  4. I can’t recall listening to an audiobook since childhood when I probably had ‘audiobooks’ of fairy tales to help me learn about reading.

    I catch public transport for about 2 hours a day and am able to carry a book (I’m reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s book The Unconsoled coincidentally) so at this stage I would only listen to an audiobook for the novelty of it because, as I’ve mentioned in another comment on this blog, I feel audiobooks take away some of the creativity of reading. There would have to be something really enticing about an audiobook for me to look into it. For example, I often feel a strong urge to experience the aural sex of Jeremy Irons’ narration of Lolita. But I only want that because I’ve read Lolita for myself already, and we’re talking about Jeremy Irons – the man with the sexiest voice on the planet.

  5. Audio books are great for car trips. In my previous job I did a lot of driving and I found audio books to be a delightful companion to the loneliness and isolation of the road. According to Bolinda, Australian truck drivers are some of the best read in the world because a lot of them listen to audio books.

    Also, a close friend of mine with learning difficulties found audio books to be godsend during VCE. (HSC) He listened to 1984 and absolutely loved it. Without audiobooks, there is no doubt my friend would have struggled through year 12 english and never read Orwell’s classic. Stories can be transmitted in any number of ways and it is wonderful that my friend could enjoy this book beyond the limitations of the printed page.

  6. Best audio book ever: Grammy-award winner and US President Barack Obama’s memoir ‘Dreams from my Father.’ Listened to it on a road trip to Melbourne and back last year. He even does different character voices! Great stuff.

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