Monday, August 9, 2010

Not that there's anything wrong with that

I'm coming out to you today. I have read trashy romance fiction. Mostly in the privacy of my own home (a metaphorical brown paper wrapper). Back in the 20th century, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander (which I wouldn't actually categorize as trashy romance) was recommended to me by a reader whose recommendations I take seriously. Then I read a few more of them , and stopped when I was about a quarter of the way into the 1,000-page one and realized that I didn't care about the love across time shared by Jamie and Claire.

But a few years later, I picked up an audiobook featuring a minor character in the Outlander series (a minor character that I only vaguely remembered), Lord John Grey. It was narrated by Jeff Woodman, and I recall enjoying it rather a lot. So when I found the second installment in Grey's career, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, I decided to give it my ears (and make my confession).

Lord John came on the scene as the jailer (gaoler) of Outlander hero Jamie Fraser when Jamie was captured after the Jacobites defeat at the Battle of Culloden (I visited the battlefield site when I was recently in Scotland.) He's the second son of a duke, and serves in the same military regiment as his elder brother. And he's gay. Not swishy, self-hating, or even one of those British schoolboy bisexuals. He is, however, not out. This might be a tad hazardous. He has declared his love for Jamie Fraser, but he has been rebuffed.

In this novel, Lord John is reminded that he knows that his father did not kill himself when he (Lord John) was 12 years old, but was murdered. Ostensibly, the novel is about his search for that murderer. But since this is a trashy romance, it really isn't about that (I swear I don't remember any mention of the murderer until he's revealed to be such, nor do I remember a description of the eponymous Brotherhood) -- it's about his love affair with his stepbrother and fellow officer, which all goes horribly wrong. There are a few good fictional rolls in the hay, discreetly yet lovingly described by the author. There's also a hilariously sexual description of Grey building a fire from the smoldering embers in a fireplace following one encounter. Now, we know these descriptions are really why we read trashy romances, but when you hear them read aloud ... well, it's not for the easily embarrassed.

And so I won't discuss it any further.

Jeff Woodman narrates this trash really well (which I think is what I liked so much about the first one); so well that you kind of want to keep listening. He reads Lord John as a languid, confident aristocrat -- cool even in the heat of passion or the heat of battle. That voice is almost like the mask that Lord John wears every day -- the mask that enables him to function in society. When he is crushed by rebuff or betrayal, the mask slips a little with a slight note of panic or loss. One of Woodman's great skills as a narrator is his ability to convey feeling and I really admire the way he uses his voice to tone down this over-the-top story. He gives the emotions a subtlety, indeed a reality, they really don't have in print.

Woodman does create different voices for many of the novel's characters, and they all sound like real people. He seems a little wavery when he tries a non-English accent -- notably Jamie's Scottish brogue and a one-armed Prussian -- but I give him marks for trying. The lengthy story moves along briskly under Woodman's confident command. Yes, there was probably something better I could have been listening to, but it didn't feel like time wasted.

Getting back to our theme about trashy romance, I think he and I need to read "up." When I look back in this blog to what else I've heard him read (Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, The Hound of Rowan, An Abundance of Katherines, and The House of the Red Fish), I realize that none of it is really great literature (or even very interesting). We deserve better. There was, of course, his masterful performance in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, but that was before my blog's time. My library has him reading Life of Pi ... I've been curious about that. I'm going to place a hold!

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade by Diana Gabaldon
Narrated by Jeff Woodman
Recorded Books, 2007. 15:45 (unabridged)

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