Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Armchair Audies Category Report: Literary Fiction

Time for me to get all judgemental for the Armchair Audies! Herein is my opinion about the Audies 2013, Literary Fiction category. The nominees are:
(note: if you click the "Read the review" links below, you'll get to a site with a sound sample of the book, too.)

Stephen Harrigan
Read by George Guidall (Recorded Books)
Read the review 

Liz Moore
Read by Kirby Heyborne, Keith Szarabajka(Blackstone Audiobooks)
Read the review 

Hilary Mantel
Read by Simon Vance (Macmillan Audio)
Read the review 

Kazuo Ishiguro
Read by Simon Prebble (Tantor Media)
Read the review 

Graham Greene
Read by Colin Firth (Audible, Inc.)
Read the review 

Last year when I participated in this fun venture for the Teens and Narration by Author categories, I set this as my criteria: The Audies site says only that the awards recognize "distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment," which is a pretty broad basis for judging. Production values, narrative technique, ability to engage the listener, preferably in a way that makes listening to a title even better than reading it would be - it's all part of the package, in my opinion. Balancing that, is just that ephemeral thing: what I like. 

So it's easy for me to say: NOT Remember Ben Clayton. This is the first book in, oh, ages and ages that I haven't finished. I did give it 5 discs (out of 14) before I gave up, so I listened to about as much of Guidall's narration as I did of the shorter books in this category. I can say that I wouldn't have gotten further in the print book - it wasn't the narration that failed. The book is not interesting. It tries, and it fails, to sweep me into a grand historical setting with wars and travel and artists and lonesome cowboys with mysterious kidnapped-by-Comanches pasts. (See, so many elements! And yet they just didn't speak to each other, or to me.) Guidall handled it all just fine, but he never seemed any more enthusiastic about the material than I was, and it was neither distinctive nor entertaining, if I'm using the APA's criteria. 

4th place in this category, but leaps and bounds and tall buildings and maybe a couple of complete cityscapes above the Harrigan is Heft. I definitely enjoyed Moore's tale which gradually - delightfully gradually - pulls together two unlikely recluses. Kel and Arthur are both intriguing characters, and Heyborne and Szarabajka (in particular) bring a lot of life to them. There's something, though, and I'm annoyed with my inability to articulate it, that was just enough 'off' for me about the book that I opted against writing about it at the time I read it. And for months afterwards - even though it was highlighted in my spreadsheet as one that I intended to review. I think it's the fact that I heard so much buzz about Moore's novel, lots of positive noise, so I was expecting to be wowed. I wasn't wowed. I LIKE it. I'd encourage you to pick it up - I know Arthur will stick with you and alter your brainwaves a little - but I wasn't wowed. So as distinctive as Szarabajka was, and as proficient as Heyborne was, they didn't elevate the book beyond the text. I could read this in print and not always have their voices in my head, which I just can't do with the top 3 in this category.

Since I can't decide, and it's my blog and I'll do what I want, I'm declaring a 2nd place tie between The End of the Affair and The Remains of the Day. I reviewed both of these here in March, so I won't rehash too much, but I'll tell you this: YUM! Both of these older books are so well-written, and you should all read them right now. Or better yet, listen to them, because Firth and Prebble both bring such life to their narrations. Distinctive? Check! (I definitely can't read either of these without hearing the narrators' voices in my head.) Entertaining? Double check! (Firth is sneakily calm about the emotions in Greene's novel, and Prebble just revels in the reserve and fish-out-of-waterness of Ishiguro's butler.) These are both real treats to listen to, and I wouldn't have without the Armchair Audies project, so I'm very glad to be able to tell you how great they are.

And that means the winner, by another little hop over a skyscraper, is Bring Up the Bodies. (And I do NOT know what is wrong with me, not to have blathered on and on about Mantel's novels here. I blather on about them elsewhere - both of her Cromwell novels won the Booker, and I was very into them for the past couple Tournament of Books. Somehow I never mentioned them here. So, first of all, such gorgeous language, such complex but fascinating characters with tricks and twists and an amazing grasp of Cromwell's times. Mantel writes the HELL out of her subject, and I will devour the third as eagerly as I did the first two, I'm sure. And as long as Vance is the narrator, I'll devour it via audio, too. He is a magician with this material - and no, I'm not just saying that because of my long-standing devotion to the guy's voice! This narration just proves how right I am to follow Vance from genre to genre - he has that quality that makes the listener eager to hear what else he's done. The voice differentiations here were particularly well-done, each person not only distinct, but perfectly suited to the character. I was distinctively entertained, and 24 hours of listening flew by. This is the clear winner, and I do hope that the APA agrees come awards night.


  1. I agree with you about Bring Up the Bodies. If the APA doesn't agree I will be testy the next morning. :)

    1. Oh, I'll be right there with you on the testiness. No fair if it doesn't win!