Thursday, February 23, 2006

Review: Dracula [audiobook]

I recently finished listening to Dracula, by Bram Stoker, as read by Alexander Spencer and Susan Adams, released by Recorded Books Company. I'm mostly going to review the audiobook production here, though the book itself is of no small interest in its own right.

First, the voices: As the story is told almost exclusively through increasingly improbable journal entries (given the choice between writing down much of what was written, and getting some sleep, I think I'd almost always get the sleep), there is almost no narration. As a result, both Mr Spencer and Ms Adams are almost always speaking in the voice of one of the characters, and by and large they both do an excellent job with managing the multiple voices, even in heated conversation. There is one glaring exception, however-- the American, Quincey Morris.

Let me be the first to say that, if asked to do any sort of British accent, much less an identifiably regional one (say, Brummie or Cornish), I would do a horrible job. But then again, I'm not an actor, so I wouldn't put myself in that situation in the first place. Spencer's Morris seems to wanter all over the landscape, accent-wise, from Texas (which is where he is supposed to be from) to Georgia, Louisiana, a brief jaunt up the Appalachians to Virginia, and at least from time to time could well have been mistaken for a Yankee. This should just be a minor quibble, but every time Quincey spoke, or wrote, I was hugely conscious of the fact that I was listening to a British actor read the part. I suppose it's a compliment, in a way, that the rest of the readings were so transparent (though, as an American, I cannot comment on the various accents of the British characters, other than to say they were distinct and not obviously bogus) that I found this one exception so jarring.

Next, the presentation itself. I think that, as an audiobook, Dracula works far better than as a book. The book's plotting and pace have rightfully been derided as pedantic and slow, but when read aloud, I got a much better sense of how the characters felt, and the way they missed clues which were obvious to the reader seemed less implausible. The story still lagged towards the middle, and the ending still felt far too abrupt, but overall, the pacing held up better when read aloud, I felt, than when read from a book. Also, several characters felt better-drawn-- Renfield's psychosis, and occasional transformation to sanity were clearer and easier to follow when you heard his voice change from low-class to a very refined RP-style delivery.

If you felt disappointed by the book in the wake of the very sensational movies based off of it, I can wholeheartedly recommend this audiobook version.

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