My Love(/Hate?) Relationship With Multiple Narrators

June 7, 2011

June is Audiobook Month, and for the second year, Jen over at Devourer of Books has decided to celebrate with her very own Audiobook Week! All of this week, I’m going to be joining in and posting about audiobooks, including reviews, daily topic discussions, and my own ideas about how we can use audiobooks in different ways throughout our daily lives.

Today’s topic is: Sound Effects Narrator Preferences

I’m not entirely sure that I’ve ever listened to an audiobook with sound effects. I mean, I’ve definitely listened to a couple books that used music to separate chapters or sections – such as the dramatic music used in the Hunger Games audiobooks – but that’s about the end of it. I don’t think I’d like there to be sound effects in books that I listen to, but that’s a completely unfounded opinion since I’ve never actually come across it yet.

So, instead, I’m going to tell you about my preferences in terms of narrators. While looking back on the books that I’ve listened to in the past year and a half, I came to a startling realization:

Only one of the audiobooks I’ve ever listened to had multiple narrators.

I know, eh? Weird! That audiobook was The Help by Kathryn Stockett. When I purchased the book, I wasn’t sure that I would like the whole multiple-narrators thing, but I decided to give it a shot. And you know what? I loved it! Here’s what I wrote in my review about this aspect of the production:

Each chapter is narrated by a different character, and the audiobook had multiple narrators who each performed a specific character’s sections. Between the accents and the personal attitudes that were expressed by the narrators, I really found myself drawn into the story – I never wanted to turn it off.

Seriously. If you haven’t listened to this audiobook, you’re missing out.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I think there were a few other books I listened to this year that really could have benefited from the use of more than one narrator. The ones that jumped out at me were:

  • Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
    • This story is told from multiple different perspectives, including two sets of twins (Julia/Valentina and Edie/Elspeth), as well as other residents of the house in which most of the story takes place (Robert, Marijke, and Martin). And personally, I think that the production might have been enhanced if different chapters were read by a different voice depending on whose point of view was being presented. But in this particular case, it would probably have worked just as well either way.
  • A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
    • There are two main narrators in this story: a man (Truitt) and a woman (Catherine). While it was easy to tell which character was narrating at what time in this book, it might have still enhanced the story to have had a female narrator take over the parts that were supposed to be from Catherine’s point of view. Like I said back when I wrote the original review, it was unsettling to hear some of the events unfold in a male voice while they were supposed to be happening to a woman. It didn’t ruin the story for me, by any means, but I just think that it might have been a welcome change.
  • The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
    • This one definitely could have used the clarity that multiple narrators would have given, but it also would have changed the whole feel of the novel. At times, it wasn’t clear from the words just who was narrating, and it would take a few minutes to figure out what was going on. A different voice would have helped; however, I think it was meant to be confusing like that from time to time, as it would have been just as strange reading the paper text and not knowing who was narrating. In the end, I think it was a good choice to use only one narrator, but it’s my wishful thinking that there might be a second version for going back on a re-read, where I could go back to the beginning and hear the whole thing over again without having to wait to figure out which character was speaking at any given time.

Thus far, I also haven’t experienced any audiobooks with a “full cast” – and I’m okay with that. I like that The Help changed narrators in between chapters and otherwise stayed the same. It made for a cohesive story and ensured that the narration enhanced the audiobook experience, rather than irritating the reader.

What about you? Have you read a good (or bad) audiobook that had more than one narrator? Any recommendations for me?

4 Comments

  • Jen - Devourer of Books June 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Oh, I really like that you took this prompt further and pulled out audios that could have used multiple narrators! And I agree, The Help is phenomenal.

  • Pussreboots June 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    There’s a single narrator but multiple voice actors used in The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. It was very well done and fun to listen to. I haven’t listened to enough audios yet to think of one with multiple narrators / voices.

  • smellincoffee June 7, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Years ago I enjoyed an audiobook presentation of “The Rise of Khan Noonein Singh” which was almost more of an audio-drama than a straightforward drama. I believe they used different readers for some of the voices, and the presentation had a full complement of background noises — doors opening, keys clicking, that kind of thing. Very nice.

    • smellincoffee June 7, 2011 at 11:01 pm

      More of an audio drama than a straightforward reading, I meant. :-/

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