In Praise of Audio Book Narrators

I’ve been listening to audiobooks for a long time but I have to say this is mainly down to the influence of BookEater Jeff (aka Dad!) And it was while listening to books with him on car journey’s that I started to realise just how big an impact the narrator had on the story. I’d already heard a fair amount of good narrators and enough bad ones when we came across a narrator so good that neither of us could believe it. Let me introduce you to …

Hugh Lee

My dad was listening to Broken Harbour by Tana French, a murder mystery set on a ghost estate on the outskirts of Dublin when we realised just how good Hugh Lee’s narration is. Although the detective Scorcher Kennedy is male, this book is chock full of strong female characters. A lot of me have trouble doing women’s voices, often making them sound too haughty and querulous. Hugh Lee had no such issue. In fact it was his voicing of the women’s part that really impressed us both, each charachter was identifiable and each sounded completely natural. Needless to say I had inspiration for the next gift to give my father, searching through other books narrated by Hugh Lee I found Three Bags Full by Leonie Swan, a very unusual murder mystery where the detectives are all sheep! Both books are worth a listen!

Find all Hugh Lee’s narration here

Benedict Cumber batch

Being the successful actor that Benedict Cumberbatch is it’s no surprise that his narration is sublime. He added so much character to The Spire by William Golding.

Sadly it’s also no surprise that he hasn’t lent his voice to this art very much! Find all Benedict Cumberbatch’s narration here

Maggie Gyllenhaal

Like Benedict Cumberbatch Maggie Gyllenhaal has an incredibly successful acting career so to find anything narrated by her is a special treat. But to find Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar was pretty much all my Christmasses come at once! There’s only one other narration on her list – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy … I’m not a fan of Tolstoy but I’m tempted just for the 35 hours I’d get to listen to her voice!

Find all Maggie Gyllenhaal’s narrations here

Hillary Huber

Hillary Huber I discovered by chance, but as she’s narrated 148 books on audible I guess I was bound to bump into her work at some time! With a catalogue like that it doesn’t really matter what genre you prefer there’s a strong chance she’s narrated it! I discovered her narrating the brilliant but very literary Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels and she breathed such life into it that I was hooked in a way I don’t think I would have been had I just read the books. Her voice actually reminded me a lot of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s so now I’m not so upset that she has narrated so little … Tolstoy might have to wait after all!

Find all Hillary Hubert’s narrations here

Prentice Onayemi

Prentice has one of those voices. You know the ones I mean, the sort that somehow manage to sound like your grandmother is telling you where the secret stash of chocolate she’s hidden just for you is. It’s warm, knowing, a little teasing. I would happily listen to him read the phone book! Luckily I listened to him read Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, a brilliant book so I got double the pleasure!

Find all Prentice Onayemi’s narrations here 

David Thorpe

I’ve sung David Thorpe’s praises in my recent review of Karen Maitland’s A Company of Liars. I want to say he has a soft, lilting north country accent but the fact is he can do so many accents so well that he might not! Maybe his real accent is an italian one! Anyway being good at accents may be an asset for narrators but it is not enough, Thorpe also has a warmth and a good ear for gentle comedy, inserting inflections in to create levity, love and

Find all David Thorpe’s narrations here

Sean Barret

Perfume by Patrick Suskind is one of my all time favourite books! As such, and because it is a book full of sensations I was worried about listening to it, if the narraton had been bad it would have broken my heart. Thankfully Sean Barrett’s understated narration suited the sneaky Grenouille down to the ground. It would have been easy to go over the top with a character like this but Barrett had the wisdom to know that too slimy or whiny a voice would have repulsed readers so instead he voiced it subtly.

Find all Sean Barrett’s narrations here

Stephen Briggs

If you’ve ever listened to an audio version of a Terry Pratchett brook there is a very strong chance you know Stephen Brigg’s voice very well already! Almost every book Pratchett has ever written has been voiced by him. Briggs, an actor as well as a writer, first met Sir Terry when he wrote to ask if he could stage his Wyrd Sisters, Sir Terry said yes and in so doing catapulted Brigg’s life down a different leg of the trousers of time! Brigg’s voice is perfect for Pratchett’s works, and he totally understands the humour in the work. If life is getting you down delve into these audio treasures and you’ll soon be smiling again!

Find all Stephen Briggs narrations here

I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Hear Hear for AudioBooks!

Headphones on the old book..

I’m a huge fan of audiobooks! Personally I have no idea how anyone gets through cleaning their kitchen without listening to a good book while they do it! Honestly a visit to my house will always show how good the book I’m listening to at the moment is – a super clean house means a book I just can’t turn off!

But what I didn’t know is that the humble audiobook has a history nearly 150 years long, dating back to Edison’s recitation of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for his tinfoil phonograph in 1877.

My thanks are really owed to the blinded World War I veterans for whom the first novel-length talking books made. The history and social impact of audiobooks is told in “The Untold Story of the Talking Book” by Matthew Rubery.  In it he argues that storytelling “can be just as engaging with the ears as  with the eyes, and that audiobooks deserve to be taken seriously. They are not mere derivatives of printed books but their own form of entertainment.”

I couldn’t agree more. Except that sometimes I disagree!

For an audiobook to be good, obviously the book has to be good, but also the reader has to be good. And not just good, but the right reader for the right book.

51nLN7yvmnL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_For example, “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern is an excellent book, BookEater Kelly adored it and everyone on Twitter loves it too. I loved the blurb and got it on audiobook three or four years ago. But although I started listening to it twice I just couldn’t get into it, then Kelly’s review pushed me to try it again and this time I got far enough in to fall in love with it. The problem was the reader, an accomplished narrator but his voice was too old for a book whose main characters were much younger.

On the other hand, listening to Maggie Gyllenhaal voice Unknown“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath is a sublime experience. And Benedict Cumberbatch reading William Golding’s “The Spire” is a pure joy!

Not that the readers need to be famous to be good. I get the majority of my audiobooks from Audible and they allow you to search by narrator so when you get a good one you can find other books they’ve narrated. But if Audible isn’t for you there are plenty of other places to get audiobooks, in fact you can even borrow them from your local library!

So give your ears a treat and get listening! And if you’re already a fan drop us a comment with some of your favourite listens and narrators!



I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Spire by William Golding

UnknownHere is a novel that illumes the Dark Ages like no other. It doesn’t bathe the whole era in light, instead a single beam lands on Dean Jocelin, a man with a vision, and through him it shows all the passion and human folly that has always been in the world.

Dean Jocelin is convinced that he has been called upon by God to show his greatness and inspire his humble flock. He will do this by building a great spire on his cathedral regardless of the fact that his master builder advises against it as the cathedral was built without foundations. For Dean Jocelin the odds being stacked against it will prove God’s greatness. As the spire rises so does the tension until everyone is at breaking point.

William Golding is best known for Lord of the Flies, a classic that thousands of school children read every year at school. I’ve never read it, I’ve heard so much about it that I’ve never felt the need. Until now. Golding’s writing is exquisite. He is a true master of literature and there wasn’t a single thing about this book that I didn’t love. The characterisation is superb, I listened to this as an Audiobook read by Benedict Cumberbatch and he portrayed them all brilliantly- maybe in the case of Jocelin a little too brilliantly!

But his characterisation are not the only star of this book, the descriptions of the settings are phenomenal too. In the blurb for this book it is described as “a dark and powerful portrait of one man’s will, and the folly that he creates” and although it is powerful I have to take issue with the word dark. This book exposes darkness but it does so with light, and the darkness is in the shadows of buildings and people.

5 Bites

I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.