The Post in Which I Muse on Audio Versions of Books
Stop reading the paper copy and give listening a go. You will likely not believe me; you will tell me that you hate audio books, that you lose track, fall asleep, and are 100% unable to pay attention. I believe you; until this series, you could have counted my attempts at audio books on one hand, as I suffered many of the same complaints. When I listened to Harry Potter while driving, I found myself getting sleepy. If I listened while cooking, I lost track of either my numbers or the plot (and that’s no good when it comes to spices, let me tell you). But then came Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, the reader for Aaronovitch’s books. As much as I enjoy the written version of Peter Grant, the audio is superb.
Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is a deity among readers. Trained as a theater actor, I suspect his versatility shows in his voices; from the Welsh pathologist, to Nightingale’s upper-class ‘posh,’ to the saucy junior apprentice Abigail, to the breathy, Cockney accent of a new character, to the semi-insane voice of a returning one. Aaronovitch writes in a multicultural London and uses it all, and I’d say Kobna’s only shortcomings are in the American (awkward) and Vietnamese accents (comes off similar to his Sierra Leone).
I did something I’ve never done with Lies Sleeping: I alternated between paper and audio for the duration of the book. I mean, except for that tiny part where I jumped ahead to the last paper chapter to see how it ended, and except for that other tiny part when I skimmed just a tad to see how we got to that part, but other than that, I was totally faithful about alternating between the two and not getting too far ahead. Since I save audio books for the car, this was no doubt a surprise to any friends who witnessed a month-long reading adventure.
Anyway, it was a pleasure having Kobna’s voice echo in my head as I read. Aaronovitch’s writing is clever, full of references, complex interactions, Latin words, and all sorts of things where looking at the format of the word is nice. But he loves architecture to the detriment of other aspects of writing, and if you pay attention to his dialogue, it mostly consists of ‘said.’ Witness:
“‘Burnt…,’ said Dr. Walid. ‘We were just about to excise it…’
‘You can watch if you like,’ said Dr. Vaughn.
I barely heard her because I’d just recognized the shape of the tattoo…
‘G for Gandalf,’ I said….
‘And I suppose you’re fluent in Elvish?’ said Dr. Vaughn, by way of retaliation.
‘No,’ I said, ‘but G is what Gandalf stamps on his fireworks…'”
On the one hand, it is a relief to be spared the adverbs of the beginning writer, who ‘laughingly, retorts, whispers, utters, and bemoans’ their way through entire scenes. On the other, the opportunity for character enhancement is missed. Solution:
Leave it to Kobna.
“Here’s a comforting thought for you, Peter,’ he said. ‘However long you may live, the world will never lose its ability to surprise you with its beauty.'”
Technically, it’s four-and-a-half stars for me. See, not a total fan-girl.
Stop reading here if you don’t want any spoilers. Silly goose; it’s the seventh book in a series.
Why not five stars?
For the paper copy, the aforementioned architecture versus character issues. Less building, more people or setting please. I don’t want to see all your research, Ben, I want to see these people come alive, smell the London air, etc. I do remember Peter smelling the oubliette, so I know you think of it too. But there was too many buildings, not enough people.
Things I loved:
The end of chapter 29, when Molly and Foxglove are dancing. I could have cried, it was such a relief after all the badness.
And I felt such a visceral reaction to everything Leslie did; that was truly some excellent writing. When she shot Chorley, I was as aghast as Peter. She went fully Dark Side. Was it because she still had a twisted notion of justice or things to hide? I’m cynical enough I went with things to hide.
Love that Peter continues to get distracted when talking to absolutely everyone, even Chorley. Love that Beverley in 800 or whenever was a white dude… of course. And that he kisses Peter, and Peter rolls with it. It was freaking awesome. I laughed out loud in delight.
There is some humor in it, but not as much as earlier books. Peter feels more grown up, which was both nice, and a little sad. It happens to us all, but those earlier days of innocence are kind of fun.
There are a lot of references to earlier books and the graphics, but the mentions feel kind of gratuitous and not integral, and Ben did another one of those things where I think he mentioned something he hadn’t written yet. Freakin’ authors.