Audio Heaven

eustace diamondsI was so sad to reach the end of The Eustace Diamonds on audio book that I rushed to spend my next audible credit on a 20-hour BBC dramatisation of the full Barchester Chronicles. And then because of a sale that was on, I splashed out on Can You Forgive Her, the first of Trollope’s Pallister series. That gave me nearly 50 hours of listening pleasure ahead, thanks to the combination of Trollope and Timothy West who read the book with such excellent timing that I felt I got a great deal more out of it than if I’d tried to read it myself. And then, buoyed on that wave of grateful desire that only books can provoke, I bought du Maurier’s Rebecca in the audible sale and Francis Durbridge’s spy thriller, Tim Frazer Gets The Message. I love audio books, but I am picky about what I’ll listen to: classics and classic crime are what work for me.

Nineteenth century classics in particular are so much better for me this way. I admit I am an impatient reader; I like to know what happens next. Your average 20th century novel, which hovers around 250-300 pages is just about right for this Goldilocks. As soon as I get into chunkster territory, it takes a special book indeed to keep me reading. I admit I stumbled over the start of The Eustace Diamonds, in which Trollope takes about 40 pages to introduce the three main characters – characters with whom we will then spend another 600 revealing, incident-packed pages. This is an indication of how much publishing has changed. No editor today would permit an author forty pages establishing characters and I see the sense in that. I nearly gave up on the audio book. But as soon as the story kicked in, I was completely hooked.

Lizzie Eustace has lost her first husband after a brief marriage. This suited her very well; she knew he was dying when she married him, and she now has the title, the connections, the Scottish estate and the diamonds that she wanted. However, the Eustace family lawyer, the tenacious Mr Camperdown, is determined to get those jewels back off her. They are an heirloom, he claims, belonging to the family and not to Lizzie; no husband would give his wife a present of a £10,000 diamond necklace so lightly and she must return them. Lizzie is determined to do no such thing, and the lengths to which she will go to keep them, the trials and the tribulations that hanging onto the diamonds cause her, will form the spine of the plot.  For Lizzie is a feisty heroine and a bad lot: she knows she is lying about her husband’s intentions, but she wants those diamonds. Like most manipulative people, she believes she is fundamentally a victim, and this provides her with sufficient justification to lie, cheat and scheme. Lizzie also needs a new husband and she fences with three distinct possibilities; an uptight aristocrat who is too wimpish to deal comfortably with her, her attractive cousin who is inconveniently engaged to a friend, and a society rogue who is her equal in double-dealing. The plot turns over like a Rolls Royce engine, and the lengthy digressions and explanations that seem so intrinsic to the 19th century narrative fly by when narrated by a clever actor.

One particularly length digression amused me – a whole chapter entitled ‘Too Bad For Sympathy’ in which Trollope bemoans his readers’ desire for only good people to appear in books as it is not at all true to life:

Our own friends around us are not always merry and wise, nor, alas! always honest and true. They are often cross and foolish, and sometimes treacherous and false. They are so, and we are angry. Then we forgive them, not without a consciousness of imperfection on our own part. And we know – or, at least, believe – that though they be sometimes treacherous and false, there is a balance of good. We cannot have heroes to dine with us. There are none.’

And he goes on about this at length – even more than I do! But it was entertaining to realise that nothing much has changed about some readers in 150 years, even if editors have altered beyond recognition. Ah but how I enjoyed this book! Listening to it was the key – if I’d been reading it, I would have had far less pleasure.


24 thoughts on “Audio Heaven

  1. I love, love, love audio books. And, like you, I like the classics and classic mysteries the best. I just finished My Antonia and Mrs. McGinty is Dead and have a Dorothy Sayers (Clouds of Witness) and a PD James (Cover Her Face) primed and queued up. It makes the commute to work and back so much more pleasant. I don’t even mind the train crossing and the red lights. In fact, I look forward to them. I’ll be traveling to Virginia in a couple of months (9 hours each way) and need something hefty. Do you suggest The Eustace Diamonds for the trip? (I skipped over the details you gave, just in case). I’m running out of Agatha Christie and I need something that holds out (both in time and in quality). I know you aren’t impressed by it because I imagine you have one and so does almost everyone around you, but I love British novels because they are read by Brits who have a British accent and I could listen to the accent for hours. And as long as I’m a captive audience in the car, might as well listen to something pleasant.

    • Ha, I am a sucker for an American accent, which can sound hugely seductive to me! I really loved The Eustace Diamonds, Grad, and feel sure you would enjoy it too. As I say, it’s a bit slow to start, so let the first three or four chapters wash over you and then prick up your ears when the story gets going (and bless Trollope, he even apologises to the reader for taking so long over his character sketches and announces that now the action begins! You won’t even miss it at a busy crossing). The best mystery I listened to recently was Josephine Tey’s The Franchise Affair. I loved that, too! Hope you have a very good, safe and entertaining trip.

  2. I too love audio books. I’m on a William Boyd spree at the moment – great. I didn’t like Can You Forgive Her, because basically I couldn’t.

    • I’m a big fan of William Boyd and I can imagine his works listen well because he is such a good storyteller. I am looking forward to finding out whether I can forgive her or not!

  3. What a wonderful digression! Poor old Anthony Trollope. Dorothy Sayers goes on in some of her letters about people writing to her and making this exact same complaint about, of all people, Harriet Vane (whom I find utterly likeable). Plus ca change, eh?

    • Oh indeed plus ca change! I am wondering whether any really good (as in: interesting, engaging) character is bound to split opinion as to be worthy of carrying a narrative, the character has to be distinctive, vivid, troublesome in some ways. Though what anyone could find to hold against Harriet Vane I cannot possibly imagine!

  4. I loved my first audiobook listened to on my phone while I walked for exercise. John Lanchester’s Capital read by Colin Mace was so memorable!! I think just because it was read to me in such an engaging manner. Absolutely unforgettable!! Miriam Margoyles reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was was another highlight. My books come courtesy of the local library I am a fortunate ratepayer!!

    • Now I do admire you for using audio books as a way to make exercise more palatable. I keep saying I will get on the exercise bike with my ipod and I keep evading the reality. I am loving the thought of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie read by Miriam Margoyles – I think I will have to look out for that one!

  5. I do love the Barchester Chronicles but have not read this particular Trollope. Sounds like a good one though. Audio books keep me sane on the commute but I’ve discovered that there are some plots or readers that just don’t work for me in audio and I drift off .

    • I do know just what you mean. I have to be careful about when I listen, as there are times of day when I will just fall asleep. Funnily enough, listening first thing in the morning can make me groggy for the rest of the day. I think that’s simply because I’m sitting at home, and that being on a commute, I would definitely need something like an audio book to keep me sane!

  6. Yes, It’s classics and crime for me as well and those particular recordings of Trollope are high on my list of all time greats. In fact the BBC Trollope dramatisation was the first audio book I downloaded. If you haven’t already explored their catalogue the Naxos recordings of classical books are usually superb. Do try Anton Lesser reading ‘Little Dorrit’.

    • Ooh interesting. I do believe I have heard Anton Lesser before; I think he reads Revelation by C. S. Samson which I own in CD form. He was very good. I love the fact that the Trollope dramatisation was your first audio download. The first audio books I listened to over and over again were the Paul Temple mysteries by Francis Durbridge. They are so schematic and yet so immensely comforting!

  7. I like the idea of audio books but I found most voices quite annyoing so far but if you recommend Timothy West, I might give him a try. I can’t see myself reading Trollope for some reason but why not listen to him.

    • You’re not a big book person either, are you, if I recall right? It is so much easier to enjoy a chunkster through audio books. I’m not sure which sorts of voices annoy you, but if you feel like giving the spoken word another try, then do try Timothy West. He really is very good (and others that have been mentioned – Martin Jarvis and Anton Lesser are also pure class).

  8. What fun this sounds! The only Trollope I’ve read is The Warden a few years ago. I liked it but haven’t manage to slip another Trollope in since. And look at you going all audio book buying crazy! Hours of fun ahead 🙂

    • I have discovered that audio books are not only great when I’m tired, but generally they increase the number and range of books I can read. Hence the outpouring of love! 🙂 Definitely try another Trollope – he is great.

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  10. I want to finish reading Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles (four to go) and then listen to them on audio. Thank you for letting us know who the narrator was. I am considering signing up for, but one of my first choices would be The Woman in White…and there are countless versions available…how will I choose the right one? So far I have only borrowed CDs from the library, so if a narrator wasn’t working for me I just return it, no harm done.

    I find Trollope and his addresses to the reader so funny. I know this irritates some people, but I think it is charming.

    • I’ve looked at The Woman in White, too – it’s enormous isn’t it? About 40 hours or something. Sounds like heaven! I think there’s a new feature on audible that lets you listen to a sample now, so that might help you make the decision. I agree it can be really difficult! Oh and also, audible has this agreement that if you don’t like the audio book, you can swap it, no questions asked. So there are more safety nets than there used to be, which is all to the good.

  11. Glad you are getting into audio books. The reader is always crucial I think. I was going to get the new Jane Austen biography until I heard the sample, which was delivered in an aggressive tone, perhaps to go with the new all singing-dancing Jane the book claims to present. I didn’t think I could take a lengthy exposure. Timothy West is great especially for Trollope. I like Martin Jarvis too. At present I’m listening to Sweet Tooth read by Juliet Stevenson, another great reader. Happy listening!

    • An aggressive Jane Austen narrator? Oh no, I don’t think I could put up with that! I’m considering Middlemarch read by Juliet Stevenson for my next monthly purchase (I think she’s great, too). And Martin Jarvis is a long-time family favourite after all the years we spent listening to Just William. I so admire the way these actors can use their voices – it’s amazing the range of tones and accents they can master!

  12. I also love audiobooks and you’ve just reminded me to check out what’s on offer at audible. I don’t know why I feel guilty about buying audiobooks since I don’t feel guilty about ebooks. Perhaps it’s the greater cost (although not that much). Glad you enjoyed the Trollope. And always good to hear of an excellent narrator.

    • Yes, I can imagine there might be a difference. It took me a while to get used to just downloading a book onto the ipod. I used to really like the heft of the CDs in my hand, the visible reminder I had something great to listen to. Just another little icon on a screen wasn’t as exciting somehow. But I think I am overcoming that; a sale can work all kinds of wonders in conjunction with my basic book greed. 🙂

  13. I really enjoy audio books, too, but like you I am picky–for me it has to be just the right narrator/reader. I should try Trollope–I want to read him and I know so many people love him, but lately chunky books don’t seem to be my thing–it took me ages to get through Cashelmara, and you know what sort of an easy breezy drama books like that can be! At the moment I am listening to The Poisoner’s Handbook, which is really good and I might even be tempted to read the book now–but most of my audio time is when I am walking to and from the bus stop–it’s been too cold to even think of leaving my ears uncovered, so I’ve been in a holding pattern–and my tokens are starting to pile up. I have Nicholas Nickleby next–poor Dickens–another author I really want to read but can’t seem to manage. Anyway–the Trollope sounds marvelous and you have loads of good listening ahead of you now!

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