I have not been a fan of audio books hitherto. Perhaps I have been unfortunate in previous choices, which have tended to be current thrillers. I have found them pedestrian when compared to the pace at which I read for myself. However, one thing that I have concluded from these past forays is that the narrator is critical to the success or failure of an audio book. A good reader can engage the listener and draw them into the novel.
This new unabridged audio version of The Vicar of Bullhampton is blessed with a very good reader in Peter Joyce. His voice is a melodious baritone which is well-suited to the leisurely exposition of Victorian literature and of Trollope in particular. He carries the reader with him, negotiating the maze of long, Victorian sentences, with their multiple clauses and sub-clauses, so unlike modern, soundbite prose, so that you never lose the sense of the author’s intention.
Joyce is notably strong in creating characters’ voices for the dialogue. He conveys something of the age, class and character of the protagonists and imbues them with appropriate emotion. Even where a conversation is between two women, he gives each a distinctive flavour without resorting to absurd falsetto.
I have a couple of minor quibbles with Joyce’s pronunciation: he follows the American pronunciation of Trollope’s first name with a soft “th” rather than the hard sound (as in “Tony”) which Trollope actually used; and he does not use the local, west-country pronunciation of Trowbridge, rhyming with “blow” but instead has it rhyme with “how”. Neither of these is obtrusive and they do not interfere with the enjoyment of the story as it is read aloud.
The sound quality of the recording is clear (I played the CDs on both a home stereo and in the car). Indeed the whole packaging conveys a sense of attention to detail and quality control. The box in which the CDs are housed is robust and the sleeve is clearly printed.
I did, however, wish that the tracks on the CDs reflected chapter breaks. Often a new chapter would start in mid-track and even new CDs may start in the middle of a chapter, which can make managing the listening experience a little more difficult than necessary. I would prefer to be able to break off listening at the end of a chapter and resume at the start of the next chapter by stopping the CD at the end of a track or the end of the CD. But this again is a minor quibble and did not diminish my enjoyment of the story.
Overall, I enjoyed listening to this novel in audio book format and would certainly recommend it both to fans of Trollope unfamiliar with the audio books and to those familiar with the format who are looking for an introduction to Trollope’s work beyond the Barchester and Palliser series.
The Vicar of Bullhampton is available on 18 CDs (running time 22 hours 40 minutes) from Assembled Stories. The RRP is £39.99 but it can be ordered direct for a discounted price of £32.99 by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org .
Other Trollope novels also available from Assembled Stories include:
Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite
Dr Wortle’s School
Harry Heathcote of Gangoil
Assembled Stories full catalogue can be seen at: http://assembledstories.com