Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spudvetch!

Upon finishing Mark Haddon's recent novel for children, Boom! (or 70,000 Light Years), I took a trip down memory lane to see when I had listened to Jeff Woodman's terrific reading of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. December 2003! Boom! is an earlier writing effort (1992) from the author. Haddon explains why he updated his novel Gridzbi Spudvetch in an introduction that is not included in the audiobook.

Gullible Jimbo learns from his crabby older sister, Becky, that he is on the verge of being sent to a remedial school. She's just yanking his chain, but Jimbo believes her and enlists the help of his best friend, Charlie, to find out exactly what his teachers are saying about him. Charlie manages to plant a walkie-talkie in the teachers' lounge, but when the boys listen in they don't hear anything about Jimbo. What they do hear they don't understand, two of the teachers talking in gibberish. Jimbo's content to let it go, but Charlie's the adventurous one -- breaking into one of the teacher's houses, he finds a journal filled with more gibberish. The boys also witness the teachers in conversation -- a conversation where their eyes begin to glow a weird television blue.

Then Charlie disappears, the two teachers disappear, and two men break into Jimbo's flat to try and snatch him. Jimbo and Becky barely escape on her boyfriend's motorcycle and the two head off to Scotland to find Charlie. What Jimbo finds in Scotland is rapid transit to the planet Plonk, 70,000 light years distant, populated by aliens who closely resemble humans (except for no belly button and a long tail) as well as huge spiders with monkey heads who take the names of human pop stars. (Jimbo meets one named Britney, who is no way compares to the delightful J.Lo.)

Boom! is slight (just under four hours) and mildly amusing, but it's not really breaking new ground in the my-schoolteacher-is-an-alien subgenre. I did enjoy Jimbo and Becky's wild ride through Scotland to the Isle of Skye but probably because I had recently been there myself. The audiobook is pretty entertaining, though, so I wonder if this is one of those books that listens better than it reads.

The actor with a quintessentially English name, Julian Rhind-Tutt (Rhind rhymes with, well, rhymed), reads Boom! It's Jimbo's first-person narration and Rhind-Tutt gives him a working class accent and a snarky attitude that seems a good match for the character. He reads pretty straight -- no attempts to sound younger and with a couple of exceptions, there are no really dramatic distinctions between character voices -- but he brings a liveliness and energy to the narration that makes listening a pleasure. He is pretty masterful when reading the aliens' gobbledegook dialogue; his ease with the language makes it sound like they are, indeed, having a conversation. He has memorable fun with the spiders, who speak like they've watched a lot of Entertainment Tonight. I'd listen to him again. To this, maybe?

I've been experiencing some literary synergy lately: several recently read books have had London's Great Stink as an important part of the plot. Alien invasion via children's book has also been a most entertaining theme -- both Rhind-Tutt and Bahni Turpin bring innovative readings to what must be the most extreme of audiobook accents -- non-human language!

Boom! (or 70,000 Light Years) by Mark Haddon
Narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt
Listening Library, 2010. 3:46

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