Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Eyes shut and ears open

When a friend recommended substituting soundtracks on my ipod for audiobooks and podcasts, I dismissed the notion almost immediately, considering anything verbal when walking or exercising to be a dangerous distraction that would inevitably lead to clumsy injury.

However, I recently had to review an audiobook as part of a job application and so was forced to abandon my prejudices and plug in. Despite my resentment at spending a Saturday doing something job-related, I was pleasantly surprised when the morning slipped by being soothed by the suave tones of Jeremy Irons. Curled up in a hazy half-snooze, eyes-shut and ears-open, I was whisked away to the world of the novelist without even having to open the book. In a room without TV and with frustratingly temperamental internet, it provided effortless escapism.

Though it will take some time before I have the confidence to swap driving basslines for a topical podcast when out running, there is something oddly satisfying about having someone read to you when in the safety of your flat. Is that because it’s a comforting allusion to the days when someone read you a bedtime story? Or is it simply an idle indulgence for those reluctant to read for themselves? Or, maybe it’s so satisfying because the style of narration actually adds something to the text…

To help justify my lazy eyes, I’ve decided to go with the latter.

Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. Narrated by Jeremy Irons

Described by the author as “a novel about the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters”, I was fairly apprehensive about starting Brideshead Revisited, anticipating a weighty novel laden with complex, religious themes. However, my reservations dissolved within the opening minutes of the narration. A far cry from a moralizing religious sermon, Waugh guides us through the delicious decadence of pre-war English aristocracy, as seen through the eyes of his protagonist Charles Ryder.

A man who “sails through the world riding on his creamy English charm,” Ryder’s story is an  ambling account of carefree merriment, hedonistic weekend jaunts and indulgent lunches, through which Waugh deftly touches on the murky themes surrounding Atheism and Catholicism. One of the finest British writers of the 20th century, his lyrical literary style is ideally suited for an audio book, and as I listened to his meandering tale, I felt as if Charles Ryder was actually sat opposite me idly chatting over a cup of tea. 

The novel is narrated by the quintessentially English Jeremy Irons, who was catapulted to stardom following his interpretation of Ryder in the award-winning TV adaptation of Brideshead in 1981. Irons explained his identification with Ryder by describing him as “the man who I was educated to be”, and has since referred to the TV series as, “the swan song to that side of my life”. He was undoubtedly the ideal choice for the audio book, and his connection with the protagonist is evident in his narration. He speaks with expressive ease, his suave tones emphasising the subtle snobberies of English elegance that underlie the text.

An engrossing immersion into the flamboyance and extravagance of the early 20th century, Brideshead is considered Waugh’s magnum opus, and Irons’ eloquent narration of the audiobook adds yet another dimension to the text.

A must-read that is now a must-listen, the Brideshead Revisited audiobook is not to be missed.