When I first began listening to audiobooks, one of my fears was that the narrator’s voice would be an unwelcome interloper between the author and me. However, I now feel that some narrators have actually enhanced my enjoyment of the books they read. Here are a selection.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, narrated by Sean Crisden and Eisa Davis
In An American Marriage, a black middle-class couple’s lives are torn apart by a false accusation. It is a powerful story of love and its limits. The voices of Sean Crisden and Eisa Davis brilliantly capture the contrasting backgrounds and temperaments of the protagonists. Read my review of An American Marriage
Bleak House by Charles Dickens, narrated by Mil Nicholson
I’m a bit ambivalent about Dickens — there are moments of genius, of beautiful, haunting writing, and a powerful sense of social justice, but then there’s all the windbaggery and sentimentality. Bleak House, the twisty story of inheritance and legal chicanery, contains all of these in abundance. However, I really enjoyed Mil Nicholson’s performance. She gives it that heightened quality and theatrical performance that Dickens seems to demand. The audiobook of Bleak House is available free from Librivox.
Blindness by Jose Saramago, narrated by Jonathan Davis
This searing allegory of tyranny, set in a world where almost everyone is suddenly blind, is horrific, visceral and fascinating. Some may say the same for the Saramago’s approach to punctuation. However, I sailed through the audiobook without even knowing that, because Jonathan Davis had already made the difficult decisions of rhythm, pace and meaning.
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell, narrated by Jonathan Keeble
Jonathan Keeble is one of the stars of the audiobook world and I have listened to several books read by him, across a number of genres. The Last Kingdom is the first of the Saxon Chronicles, where ousted lord and inveterate outsider Uhtred tells the story of his struggle to regain his birthright while forming alliances and fighting battles with Saxon and Dane alike.
The series has a number of different narrators, but for me Keeble will always be Uhtred, at turns aggressive, thoughtful, humorous and earthy.
Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo, narrated by James Goode
This is another first person narrative, the story of Barrington Walker, born in Antigua, longtime resident of Hackney, who abruptly decides to come out to his family after fifty years of marriage. The story roves across the years, taking in the present, the history of his marriage and his secret life with his lover.
Packed with Barrington’s wry observations, his passions, humour and moments of cruelty, it’s beautifully read by James Goode and the narration captures his voice in all its complexity.
Kill the Father by Sandrone Dazieri read by Cassandra Campbell
This is the first in the series of conspiracy thrillers featuring Caselli and Torre. She’s a driven police officer undergoing a crisis, he’s a gifted but disturbed man who survived a brutal abduction. She enlists his help when another boy is kidnapped.
It’s clever, complex, full of drama and Cassandra Campbell has the most beautiful voice. I could listen to her read the telephone directory. Read my review of Kill the Father
All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye by Christopher Brookmyre, narrated by Sarah Barron
Christopher Brookmyre’s varied output ranges from character-driven psychological thrillers to high-concept capers. This standalone features Jane Bell, a grandmother who gave up her dreams and her punk aesthetic when she became a young mother. Now life is suddenly lively when her son disappears and she becomes drawn into an audacious attempt to track him down, becoming drawn into international subterfuge and sabotage after an incident in a soft play car park.
Sarah Barron does a brilliant job, combining Brookmyre’s trademark multi-clause tirades, fast, funny action scenes and the quieter reflections of a woman in midlife on a life-changing adventure.
The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan, narrated by Mark Meadows
The spirit of Enlightenment enquiry and political upheaval combine in this story of a country landowner who pays a farm labourer to spend seven years in isolation, with dramatic consequences. Mark Meadows brings the contrasting voices of the two men brilliantly to life. Warlow’s words, in particular, become disjointed at times under the influence of the trauma, but his interpretation kept it engaging, moving, and even darkly funny. Read my review of The Warlow Experiment
Eight Million Ways to Die written and narrated by Lawrence Block
This is the fifth novel in the series featuring New York investigator Matt Scudder, but it’s the one that takes this from being just good to iconic. It’s particularly suited to audio because it’s about the cacophony of voices of a city in crisis, one which mirrors Scudder’s own personal turmoil.
Books read by the author can be a bit hit and miss but I loved Block’s reading. He doesn’t ‘perform’ the voices of the different characters in the way that a professional narrator would, but his writing has a very particular rhythm and tone which he brings perfectly to life. Read my review of Eight Million Ways to Die
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy, narrated by Romola Garai
I loved this story of a spiky, difficult mother-daughter relationship, played out on the periphery of Europe, where the fault lines of bodies, families and states intertwine. It is beautifully read and Romola Garai perfectly captures the acerbic tone and the languorous feel of the heat of Almeria. Read my review of Hot Milk