The Importance of Narrator in Audiobooks

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my blog!

I’ve recently had occasion to listen to a number of audiobooks which I borrowed from my local library. I tried to look for familiar authors and titles, and since that gave me limited results,  I resorted to choosing  attractive covers, then reading the book summaries on the back of each audiobook case. I eventually borrowed six titles and optimistically looked forward to many hours of listening pleasure.

Having studied oral interpretation of poetry and prose in college and having experience as a public speaker and a radio announcer, I found myself listening with a critical ear. I applied what I knew to this art of narration and wondered how some of these narrators wound up with these jobs. Do authors choose the narrators of their audiobooks? Isn’t it necessary to have a pleasant voice ? To use proper phrasing, pausing and emphasis in order to communicate meaning? To be able to keep the voice of the narrator distinct from the characters’ dialogue? Shouldn’t the voice capture the mood of the book?  Hmmm.

I actually listened only to three of the six audiobooks from beginning to end. I found the voices on the remaining three of the audiobooks so unappealing,  I couldn’t bring myself to stick with them even for the sake of the story.  I will list the titles and give proper credit to the authors and narrators. I will praise the great one and the very good ones but I will generalize with the remaining three titles so as not to overstep boundaries.

The Titles

“Orange Is The New Black”  by Piper Kerman, read by Cassandra Campbell

“The Last Assassin” by Barry Eisler, read by Michael McConnohie

“The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant, read by Carol Bilger

“The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain, read by Carrington MacDuffie

“The Light of the Evening” by Edna O’Brien, read by Dearbhla Molloy

“In Too Deep” by Jane Krantz, read by Joyce Bean

Of the six, an excellent narration was done by Cassandra Campbell in “Orange Is the New Black” Her voice was appropriate to the mood of the book and she communicated meaning  with proper phrasing, pausing and emphasis; the narrator’s voice was distinct from the dialogue and she did a great job of characterization in using different speech patterns for each character.

The narrations by Michael McConnohie in “The Last Assassin” and by  Carol Bilger in “The Red Tent” were very well done. McConnohie had a little problem with the different foreign accents and Bilger did little differentiation with the characters’ speech patterns. Very good job, overall.

This brings us to the remaining three. One of the voices belonged to what I think was a woman who sounded as if she’s spent time in smoke filled rooms, belting down too many scotches and maybe puffing on a cigar in between. The next narrator had such a heavy brogue that it was like translating  a foreign language and required too much work. Not having any visuals while listening, there were too many words and phrases I just did not hear nor did I understand . The last of the three reminded me of an overactive puppy giving stress and emphasis to many words, almost as one would exaggerate a children’s story to make it more exciting. Also, this narrator had trouble keeping the voice of the narrator distinct from the characters’ and used the same intonation for all.

The conclusion here: choosing a narrator for your audiobook is an important tool for increasing sales and garnering critical acclaim. The narrator is not separate from the audiobook.

As I learned in college many years ago in the words of Marshall McLuhan, the philosopher of communication theory: THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE.

Therefore, the narrator is the audiobook.

© 2014  All rights reserved. No part of this content may be reprinted or used in any form without express permission from Elaine Donadio Writes.






3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pdworkman
    Sep 13, 2014 @ 10:37:48

    I think you’ve hit on the most important points. Pauses are so important in audiobooks, and some narrators seem to just barrel through them. Wait, was that a scene shift? Whoa, it’s suddenly a week later? You think you might have taken a few seconds to make that break in our minds?

    A heavy accent is a problem. A mild accident usually isn’t, particularly if it is the same accent as the voice of the main character/viewpoint. I recently listened to a book about an Irish character, done in an Irish accent, and while I hated the book, the narrator was perfect for it. And if that was just an assumed accent, bravo!

    Being able to differentiate between characters is rally important, especially if the author hasn’t used a lot of dialogue tags or other speaker indicators. A rapid back-and-forth discussion where you lose track of who is talking, especially if there are more than two characters involved, is not good for the reader.

    Other issues? Mispronounced words. If you don’t know, look it up! I think American narrators are particularly bad for this. British usually get it right. Or, if you are a narrator and find a typo in a book you are reading, check with the author, don’t just read what is there. One book I listened to had some bizarre lines that seemed to be typographical errors simply read aloud. I have listened to some books where I didn’t like the author’s voice, and some where it was perfect and really enhanced the experience. When I leave a review on an audiobook where the narrator was particularly good or bad, I try to mention that, so that other readers know before they start, and so the author is aware of any issues with or kudos due the narrator.



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