Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jellicoe cats on the Jellicoe Road?

Someone on my committee just noticed that this audiobook was published in 2006, so there are nine good listening hours I'll never get back. Grrr ... This book (whose "American" version has lost the On the) by Melina Marchetta tells a very confusing story. Confusion generally does not make for good listening. Taylor Markham boards at the Jellicoe School, located somewhere 600 kilometers from Sydney. The school has a most peculiar tradition: Each year, it fights for "territory" against the townies and the cadets. The cadets are high school males who -- for some unexplained reason -- spend a good portion of their school year camped out in the bush. The townies also seem to be exclusively male. Taylor has been elected to lead the schoolies (?) in this year's Territory Wars.

The first question here is "Why?" The second one is "Where are the adults?" I never heard a satisfactory answer ... or even an unsatisfactory one.

Taylor's mind is not on the Wars, though. The closest thing she has to a caring adult in her life is a woman named Hannah who lives near the School, but Hannah has mysteriously disappeared. She leaves behind a manuscript describing the adventures of five young friends -- three of whom survived a horrific car crash on the Jellicoe Road that killed their (two sets of) parents. These three are joined by a townie and a cadet and live an idyllic adult-free life at the school and in the surrounding countryside. Hannah reads the manuscript and has disturbing dreams.

Something brings her around so that she begins to strategize tactics for the Territory Wars, but in the process she grows close to both Griggs the cadet and Santangelo the townie. Gradually, Taylor realizes that Hannah's manuscript is telling her something about her own origins and she sets off on a journey to find where Hannah has gone.

The book is told by Taylor, sporadically interspersed with Hannah's manuscript. A fine, classic narrative format. Unfortunately, a listener doesn't realize this right away as she is given no aural clues that the focus is shifting. The listener is confused, and so she is still puzzling out what she heard in a previous section while the part she is (half) listening to might be offering explanations for, say, the Territory Wars. Alas, unlike a reader, she can't pause and leaf back to the earlier section in order to clarify. And she's given no warning when the focus shifts again.

Oh wait, she was given a heads up: a short riff of music separated the sections. However, each musical interlude was exactly the same -- a soft-rocky something with a drumstick hitting the rim and a guitar. Listening to it over and over again was so bloody tiresome. At the beginning and the end of each disc it went on for a full minute or more.

This narrative format can be interpreted well in audio -- with two narrators, for example -- but there were more problems to this title as well. The story is told in short sentences and the Australian speaking style -- rapid and staccato sounding -- made for nervous, jarring listening. The narrator, Rebecca Macauley, had a habit of pausing up to a full second between a sentence of dialogue and the "she said." She voiced boys and men with a low, almost no-affect speech that didn't differentiate between characters. When more than one male was in a conversation, you often had to wait that full second (which is a long time while listening, believe me) before you knew who had spoken.

All that being said, Macauley created a lively portrayal of Taylor -- smart, sad, in love. It's always enjoyable listening to an Aussie. I wish we'd get more books from Bolinda Audio, but they've been few and far between this year.

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