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?