Olivia Joules: when audio rules

There are some books that are so good as audiobooks that I can’t really imagine ‘reading’ them any other way. One of these for me is Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding (of Bridget Jones fame), read by Suzy Aitchison.

I had a situation this week, when the audio I was listening to in the car (Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours) was missing disc 9. Arrrgh! I had to stop listening of course, and so to alleviate my driving boredom, I slapped on Olivia Joules (which I keep on USB in my handbag at all times like a good-luck talisman).

It’s unashamedly a froth and bubble book, endlessly entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny. The novel is about Olivia, an English freelance journalist looking for her one big serious story, who nonetheless keeps on getting commissions for the ‘style section’ of the Daily Times. She’s sent to Miami to cover a celebrity face cream launch, where she meets the dashing Pierre Feramo, who she instantly suspects of being a terrorist. As Olivia chases one story after another, from Miami to LA to Honduras and beyond, she becomes more and more convinced he’s a terrorist… It’s all very ridiculous, but Olivia is such an engaging character, and it’s narrated so well, that I keep on dragging it out to listen to again.

And this is the thing. I’m almost convinced that my enjoyment of it is at least half due to the brilliance of the narration. I have by now bought the paperback as well, but I think I still prefer to listen.

I started listening to audiobooks several years ago, initially to accompany my 4km walk to and from work. I used to find the prospect of the next installment in the story would help drag me out of bed the required half hour earlier. Often I would find myself unable to stop listening when I made it home again, so I’d plug it into the stereo while cooking… or cleaning. They can sure get addictive. (This doesn’t happen when I listen in the car, because it’s too much hassle to disrupt the car system.)

I also find audiobooks particularly good for literature and classics. It’s because the reader goes to all the trouble to add texture and meaning… it’s like a performance.

Virginia Woolf is awesome in audio. And having Richard Dawkins and his wife narrate The God Delusion makes his meaning very clear. Then when it came to A.S.Byatt’s Persuasion, I both listened and read the book in tandem — effectively reading it twice. There’s so much poetry in that novel that it really helped me to have it interpreted.

So in answer to Question 5 (audiobooks or paperbacks?) in those 11 questions I started answering a few months ago, I would have to say ‘it depends’. Clearly for me there are some books where the narrator adds to the enjoyment.

Moreover, I suspect I’ve listened to some books I might not have made it through if reading, so perhaps for those borderline books (whether it’s because they’re a bit too slow, a bit too dull, a bit too long, or requiring a bit more effort) audiobooks win too!

I’m interested to know whether those readers here who already listen to audiobooks have any favourites where the audio experience surpasses the paperback? What are some of your favourites?

16 comments

  1. “…the reader goes to all the trouble to add texture and meaning… it’s like a performance.” This is exactly why I enjoy listening to audio books, especially when they’re read by the author (as long as they have a good reading voice). There are some books I have to have a copy of and hold in my hands, books that I simply have to annotate with my little post-its because the writing is so captivating.

    Then there are books so much more enjoyed in audio. My recent favorite on audio is Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (which I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago). I also enjoyed listening to Melina Marchetta’s books on audio because they have Australian readers capturing the essence of the Australian characters in a way that the American reading voice in my head just simply can’t.

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    1. You are definitely my audio kindred spirit, Tami 🙂
      I’m not convinced about author readings in general — although as I said Richard Dawkins was good. But when it comes to fiction and putting on voices etc, I tend to think actors are better suited.
      I tend to get the paperback if I love an audiobook a lot — sometimes because I get impatient and want to read ahead!
      What you say about Australian narrators for Australian books etc is a good point.

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  2. I almost completely listen to audiobooks. One of my favorites is the Harry Potter series – I can’t imagine the paperback surpassing the experience of listening to Jim Dale who has a different voice for every character.

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  3. I have just finished the Hunger Games audio books and now reading The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, which I have already read as a regular book but I decided to go audio in an attempt to finish the series . Wasn’t successful at that with the regular ones so we will see how it goes. I do recall these books had a lot of footnotes which will be interesting to see how they are managed….

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  4. I like audiobooks in theory, but I haven’t experienced very many of them. I have the entire Lord of the Rings as audiobooks, and the reader does a great job, although I haven’t listened to it all the way through. One time I tried them out instead of music while working my old job, but that didn’t work out so well. When the work was going really well and occupying my full attention, I’d completely miss large chunks of the book. I’d probably have to sit someplace and render myself almost completely inert if I’m to really get the most out of an audiobook.

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    1. Too funny. Yeah, audiobooks no good for working to… If you need to concentrate at all. They’re good for driving, walking, cooking, housework… Even gardening.

      I have a recording of the old LOTR radio play, which is rather good. Although different from a sheer narration of the book.

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  5. Driving might work, although I tend to get a little antsy unless I have some music playing.

    I always meant to check out the radio play, which I’ve heard is pretty good. The version I have is an unabridged reading, which came on a LOT of CDs 🙂 I spent quite a bit of time converting them to digital files and putting them together as actual audiobooks, which are great for remembering where I left off and all that.

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  6. I’ve only recently become a convert. I tend to slip into daydream mode really easily so when I’d listen to an audiobook, usually on a car ride, I’d realize that I’d miss big chunks of story. I’d go back and try again only to find my mind traveling elsewhere, off on some story inspired tangent, and having to go back again. What I realized lately is that I am less likely to lose focus on the audio story if I wear headphones, and have recently been listening to Stephen King’s 11/22/63 while working out on the elliptical machine. I’ve gotten so caught up in the story that I exercise longer because I don’t want to have to turn it off. 🙂

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