Tuesday, September 9, 2008

So this is the tale of our castaways ...

I have enjoyed everything that I've read by Iain Lawrence: Lord of the Nutcracker Men, The Lightkeeper's Daughter, B for Buster, and the three novels that make up The Curse of the Jolly Stone. The Castaways is the concluding novel in the trilogy. I can't remember many details of the first two books, but I recall that young Tom Tin finds himself in possession of a huge diamond that he secretly buries somewhere in London. In a case of mistaken identity, he is convicted of theft and sent to a rusting hulk in the Thames to await transportation to Australia. On the voyage Down Under -- in a ship captained by his father -- Tom and several other young convicts escape. They roam around the South Seas eluding cannibals and other dangers, and, at the beginning of The Castaways, they are about to sacrifice one of their group because they are out of food and water.

Rescued at the last minute (as they have been so many times before), by the appearance of an abandoned slave ship, they take on some unsavory passengers. In the extremely small world department, it turns out these passengers are in the employ of the evil Mr. Goodfellow -- the same man who's responsible for shipping Tom Tin off to Australia in the first place. Tom is eager for another meeting with the misnamed Goodfellow: He wants to give him the giant Jolly Stone, hopeful of passing on the Stone's curse that has dogged him since he found it. The Castaways relates Tom's dangerous journey back to London and his final confrontation with Goodfellow.

Like its predecessors, it is a smashing adventure story -- Dickensian in its extremes of characters and its depiction of evil and good. I just can't feel the same way about its narrator, John Keating. I've listened to him read a good many books (among them The Ranger's Apprentice series and Avi's The Traitors' Gate), and I've enjoyed these outings, but I think my power listening means he's now sitting on my last nerve. I can't endure his reader tics any more!

Each sentence tends to blend together because Keating largely reads every one the same way -- pausing halfway through for effect and often taking an audible breath. It's lulling, it's hard to stay focused on the story. (I had a similar reaction while listening to this series' middle installment, The Cannibals. I felt literally lost at sea.) I concentrated very hard to make sure I was tracking the events of the plot, but still I would occasionally drift off. He also has a very nasal voice that contributes to the soporific effect. He can, and does, do the range of English voices well -- and Lawrence's over-the-top characters are well portrayed by him.

There was a moment very early in the book when Keating had to speak the onomatopoeia of the ship's engine: chuck-i-tee, chick-i-tee. Keating read these words with such disdain, such superiority, it was like they were a bad smell. I rewound to listen again and laughed right out loud. He did not sound like an engine.

Finally, publisher Recorded Books has included extremely lengthy pauses between chapters (1o seconds is a lot of silence). White space is good, but not this much.

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