Saturday, August 11, 2007

How good books go bad

OK ... I'm on the home stretch here from the backlist: The Mysterious Benedict Society. My book group discussed this on Monday and one member said that if it hadn't been for Harry Potter, this book would be all the rage with the under-14 voracious reader set. Tellingly, she had given up listening to it and finished it in print.

So the point from my previous post gets reversed here: A bad (bad!) narrator can utterly ruin a good book. With this title, I never even got to the good part. SLJ thought the narrator, Del Roy, "work[ed] perfectly." Well, he just never worked at all for me. His rough voice never varied, never voiced a character, never spoke faster or slower ... for 13 hours! For me, there was not an iota of suspense (even though the chapter endings were cliffhangers -- or so I understand them to be), no character development, no bizarre world realized. I just kept dutifully changing disks, waiting for the end.

The few plays on words character and place names that the author slipped into the story bothered me as well: Nomanisan Island and Ledropthecurtain were the two I heard here. I think you get the joke so much more when you listen (I didn't get Diagon Alley for years!). They are clever, they give you pause, you chuckle, you understand the joke. But when there are only two, you invest those with such meaning. Why are there only two? What does it mean that the place and the person who runs the place have those names? Why doesn't his identical twin brother have a punny name? And when no explanation is forthcoming, feels to me like I've missed the joke. Again, I plead: Authors! Remember the listener!

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