Audio Books, sadly

When the Emerging Artist and I were much younger, I used to read to her on long car trips. For quite a while now, my voice has given out after an alarmingly short time, and we have turned to other entertainments. Audio books we’ve enjoyed are Magda Szubanski’s reading of her memoir Reckoning, and Bruce Kerr and Helen Morse’s reading of Donald and Myfanwy Horne’s Dying: A Memoir, though we only listened to half of the latter. We couldn’t stand David Tredinnick’s actorly reading of Tim Winton’s Island Home, though we could tell the book itself was interesting.

This blog post reports on two more experiments on Audio books on car drives from Sydney to Aireys Inlet in Victoria.


Richard Fidler & Kári Gíslason, Saga Land (2017, audible.com 2018)

This is an introduction to the Icelandic sagas embedded in a travel book. It includes Kári Gíslason’s personal story of claiming his Icelandic identity – he was born in Iceland to an Australian mother, but his Icelandic father wasn’t acknowledged on his birth certificate, or at all until he went looking for him as a young adult. It also tells about the friendship between travelling companions Fidler and Gíslason. They wrote alternate chapters and each reads his own chapters in the audio book.

I loved the tellings of the Icelandic sagas – both for their own sakes and for the light they cast on books like Independent People and movies like Rams, and TV shows like Trapped. A year later, my mind has indelibly retained a chilling moment from one of the sagas where a woman exacts revenge for what would now be called an act of domestic violence. And Fidler and Gíslason were excellent company.

Either my ageing ears or our feeble car radio meant that Richard Fidler’s tendency to fade away at the end of sentences made his sections of the book hard to follow at times. But this was a minor blemish compared to readers of other books (see below).

Our car trip, in January last year, ended before the book did, and I didn’t blog about it immediately because I intended to read the rest of it to myself. But as more than a year has now passed, I have to admit that I’ll never get around to it. That is to say, it was a pleasant, instructive read, but not compelling enough to make me go to any trouble to finish it.


Evie Wyld, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice (Bolinda Publishing 2011, read by David Tredinnick)

In spite of my having wanted to throw Evie Wyld’s more recent novel All the Birds, Singing across the room, we’d both enjoyed it enough to expect to enjoy this.

We didn’t. In spite of the pleasures provided to this North Queensland boy by a sugarcane-field setting, we gave up after three of the ten discs, partly because its two narrative strands were going to meet in fairly predictable ways, partly because in one of them the characters felts utterly contrived, especially a weirdly taciturn little girl, and partly because David Tredinnick’s ‘do the police in different voices’, though probably objectively excellent, got on our nerves. For my taste, his reading injects too much actorly interpretation between the writing and me, and I find myself fighting with him over the characters when I’d rather be lost in the story.

We shifted to podcasts – Kermode and Mayo’s film reviews and This American Life. Maybe if I go blind I’ll reconcile myself to audio books, and I’m not ruling out getting another one from the library if we do that drive again. But for now, I’m not an audio book fan.

9 responses to “Audio Books, sadly

  1. No comment on these books – but thanks to you I got stuck into reading John Le Carré’s latest – thanks for giving it the thumbs up – but it is true that he never writes a dud! Lunch recently with Paul Glynn SM (reconciliation priest) who had a couple of books to give me – one written by a friend of his and known to me, too – the 2011 Japanese version and the 2016 English translation – the woman who established the Japanese department at Macquarie Misuzu (Suzi) [née HANIHARA] CHOW – the story of her grand-father HANIHARA Masanao the Japanese ambassador to Washington DC immediately post-Great War and his battle against anti-Japanese sentiment within the Woodrow Wilson government… (worse but subtler than that of William Morris HUGHES of Australia against the racial equality clause proposed by Japan at the Versailles Peace Treaty talks of 1919)…Oh, saw Paddy three days ago – at the Brothers Provincial House in Drummoyne – soon to be sold…with Joanne (our bridesmaid) and Frances, his sisters – other cousins. Very pleasant – heritage listed building… on the water…

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  2. After Fran Kelly took over the breakfast show on RN I used audio books for years during the daily commute …
    and I found that they work for some books, and not others. If I have only two words to generalise with, I would say they work for undemanding commercial fiction.
    And yes, the problem of the voice fading in and out is quite common.

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  3. kathyprokhovnik

    We listened to Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ when we were doing those drives to the farm at Gloucester and back every week – fabulous!

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