The last time I ‘read’ an audio book, I was about six years old. I had a cassette tape and book, and the narrator would ding a bell when it was time to turn the page.
I kind of thought audio books were the domain of grey folk or the vision impaired. However with a 2.5 hour commute and the self-imposed deadlines associated with writing a book review blog, I decided to give it a try. To compound the feeling of, shall we say, maturity, I actually borrowed an audio book from the library.
The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly was a surprise to me. I didn’t expect to enjoy the process of being read a story, and the language and style of writing, coupled with excellent narration enhanced a good plot immensely.
Set in 1939, London, we meet David a twelve year old boy mourning the loss of his mother. In just a few moments of listening I was captivated. I drove with blurred vision as the narrator described the heartbreaking moments of saying goodbye, the prelude to, and day of the funeral, and of David trying to understand the loss; closing his bedroom curtains and lying squashed under his bed to simulate the experience his Mum must be having in death.
With the benefit of verbal context, pauses in all the right places, whispers and tone, the narrator added to the language of the text; the characters instantly likable, and the revelation of drama and family angst was subtle and clever.
As war rages across Europe, and David’s personal anger grows, his only comfort is his books. Books which contain folk tales and stories that once kept him and his mother so close. The books take on their own role in his grieving and begin whispering to him inside his head.
After exploring the grounds of his new home a little too thoroughly, he is soon propelled into a land that is seemingly a construct of his own imagination, but also very real.
I must admit, I did not see an alternate world coming, and was a little stunned at first when the narrator began to add noises and dialogue in accents and strange voices. However it adds to the fantasy, as David tries to find his way back home, with his only hope being an elderly far away King who owned a mysterious book: The Book of Lost Things.
The characters David encounters are typical of a fantasy or fairy tale; trolls, woodsmen, knights, werewolves, and even Snow White, however the outcomes are not. The tale is peppered with dark and disturbing versions of classic fairytales, and genuinely evil antagonists. The plot is intense and suspenseful and David is one of the most lovely characters I’ve read in a long time.
In short: Surprising, suspenseful and aurally intense.
Postscript: Having thoroughly enjoyed the experience of an audio book, it got me hypothesizing about the importance of the narrator. Nick Rawlinson was perfect for this title. His voice was smooth and soft and polished and powerful at all the right times. However it wasn’t until I started my second book that it became obvious just how important the right storyteller was to the experience. Admittedly my second audio book was more of a chick-lit crime drama, and I soon learned it was peppered with schmaltzy and unnecessary descriptions of passion. When the Texan twang of a scratchy sounding broad came over the stereo, I cringed. When she started talking about nipples and ooh ahhs, I nearly rear-ended the bus in front of me. (Innuendo intended) With that CD sailing out my sun roof, I became determined to check the quality of the voice, as well as the story, for my next audio book.