Victorian consumption of novels often took the form of the father reading the story aloud to the gathered family. It seems that in our busy modern world, where being seated around the fireplace together is as rare an event as an apology from a waiter in a Parisian restaurant, that we have nevertheless found our way around a great circle to return to having books read to us. Now, however, instead of the bushy, grey-bearded paterfamilias serving as the narrator for the assembled wife and children, we enjoy the narration spoken confidentially into our ears through earbuds, earphones and headphones on the move as we hurry from one appointment to the next on crowded public transport.
Audible is one company which has sprung up to serve this new demand and I have just listened to the unabridged version of He Knew He Was Right, Trollope’s long, dark novel of the breakdown of a marriage, read by Nigel Patterson which is published through Listen2abook.com.
The first thing that strikes me as I listen to Patterson’s narration is how much younger he sounds than I expected. Surprisingly so. His voice does not conjure up that middle-aged, bearded father figure, lugubriously expounding for the benefit of his family, but instead comes across as a pleasant and lively conversationalist, relating the tale to you. Given the intensity of the subject matter and psychologically deep waters he negotiates, Patterson manages to propel you through the story so that the pace does not flag while doing more than adequate justice to the drama of the unfolding catastrophe.
A quick comparison with several of the other audiobooks I have experienced revealed that he reads some 20% quicker (more words per minute) than the narrators of “classics” than a random sample of alternatives – at least one of which I have listened to very happily only recently (and others that I have dipped into in advance, for the purposes of forming the comparison, from my “to be read (to me)” pile, if I may call it that. His pace is more akin to that I have found in audio versions of modern thrillers – indeed, his catalogue of audio books he has narrated comprises predominantly modern rather than classic novels.
He achieves this pace while maintaining absolute clarity of diction, which makes listening both pleasant and easy. Indeed, the sound quality of the download on my Kindle, with it’s tiny built in speaker is more than acceptable at the volume necessary to listen while doing something else (cooking since you ask) across the room at the same time. And through earphones it is even better.
As with the best of other narrators to whom I have listened, he manages to maintain the sense of the convoluted, many-claused Victorian sentences for the listener with careful attention to the punctuation pauses to convey the impact of the meaning. He also handles the dialogue with a sure touch, whether it be male protagonists’ or females’ speech he is pronouncing. I never lost the thread of the conversations as he shifted from one speaker to another and back.
Overall, I found the Audible download experience very pleasant – I listened mainly at home in the evenings or during the day when the tasks in hand did not require full concentration. I did not try the online alternative, which avoids the clogging up of valuable memory space on your device by streaming the narration, though with a reasonable Wi-fi connection and broadband speed I have no reason to doubt it would be similar quality. In many respects it is easier to manage (whether by download or streaming) than a box of CDs – though you do then miss out on the more tangible sense of ownership that a physical product provides. But that may be simply my middle-aged prejudice.
Certainly, there was never any problem with losing my place as the playback instantly restarted from the last location at which the narration was paused, and navigation from chapter to chapter in the menu could not be simpler.
Indeed, Audible offers options to bookmark locations within the novel, appending your own notes to these locations, to jump forward and backward through the novel in 30 minute (or other duration) leaps, to speed or slow the speed of narration (without creating the high-pitched novelty voice when speeded-up, or to set in advance a timer to switch off the narration after a pre-determined time period (up to an hour) or to a chapter end, enabling you to doze off to sleep with the comfort of the narrator reading you your bedtime story.
All this functionality has been thought through to enhance the user’s experience and to suit the varying requirements of those purchasing the books.
I can therefore only recommend trying out the experience to anyone who has not previously given audiobooks a go and, when doing so, can equally recommend Nigel Patterson’s reading of He Knew He Was Right, as one of Trollope’s later, more psychologically challenging, novels which, being a one-off rather than part of a series, can stand alone in its own right.
You can purchase He Knew He Was Right, read by Nigel Patterson, at:
The UK price is currently £45.69 but the book is free with a 30 day free trial of Audible (membership is currently £7.99/month which entitles you to one book download per month – more can be purchased at additional cost).