Robin Sachs - About his voice work - Nytimes.com Review
mercredi 30 mai 2012, par Webmaster
My audiobook listening takes place during my morning exercise, which means I spend a good seven hours a week listening to books — far more of them, in fact, than I read in print these days. If you’d encountered me on the street recently, you might have seen me trotting along, laughing aloud to David Sedaris’s “Barrel Fever” or Tina Fey’s “Bossypants,” or crying — yes, real tears and grimaces, I have to admit — to the ending of “The Mill on the Floss.” My neighbors either don’t notice or are too kind to mention my seeming emotional instability.
But if somebody’s going to spend 10 or 20 hours in my ears, turning me into a local jogging spectacle, I’d better enjoy the experience. That means, of course, picking the right books to listen to. It also means listening to the right reader. Edward Herrmann did a great job with Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken,” but I don’t want to hear his interpretation of “Barrel Fever.” Well, maybe a little, but I’m weird. Narration is, not surprisingly, an essential part of the experience. However, apart from Jim Dale, who has employed his hundreds of voices for the phenomenally successful series of Harry Potter novels, audiobook performers are little known outside of the community of devoted listeners.
The best readers don’t put so much acting into the recording that it interferes with the connection between the author and the listener. “The Mill on the Floss,” for example, is too long a companion for histrionics ; the reader of the version I listened to, Jill Tanner, has a steady, lightly understated delivery that allowed the passion and tragedy to unfold. Kate Reading, another British actor with a lovely voice, sometimes seems, in long works like “Middlemarch” and the six-volume Codex Alera fantasy series by Jim Butcher, to let slip a hint of weariness, if not outright boredom.
Then there’s Grover Gardner, a wry narrator with a mellow, regular-guy voice whose talents I first encountered in the legal mysteries of David Rosenfelt. He is remarkably companionable and conveys the feeling he’s enjoying the book as much as you are, with a smile that is somehow audible. He has recorded hundreds of books in a long career, and I will soon spend a great deal of quality time listening to him read “The Passage of Power,” the latest volume in Robert Caro’s unending biography of Lyndon Johnson. I would listen to Gardner read the Federal Register.
I feel the same way about Robin Sachs, a classically trained British actor. Sachs shines darkly in his reading of the Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbo’s smart and gritty Harry Hole books. On television, Sachs has had recurring roles as Ethan Rayne in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and as Adam Carrington on “Dynasty : The Reunion.” Which isn’t bad — a gig’s a gig, after all — but it isn’t living the Gielgud life either. As a reader, however, Sachs is subtle and sly : he has a way of saying the word “boss” just as the troubled cop Harry probably would, inflected dozens of ways to get across his attitude toward the particular superior he is speaking with, whether grudgingly respectful, nearly affectionate or oozing scorn. His command of expletives is explosive and sublime. By contrast, Thor Knai, the other actor to narrate a Harry Hole mystery (“Nemesis”), is actually Norwegian and his accent is flawless. Yet his delivery lacked Sachs’ gravelly weariness and what to me felt like a deep grasp of the characters.
Authors who read their own works take a real risk. Few are professional actors, and oddly, they tend to lack the skills to do justice to their own works. But they do offer a connection with the reader, and some provide happy surprises : my colleague Dan Barry recorded the audio version of his 2011 book “Bottom of the 33rd : Hope, Redemption and Baseball’s Longest Game,” lending a quiet dignity to a long-ago minor league contest between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings.
Is there such a thing as the perfect marriage between author and reader ? I think I found it in Ernest Cline’s dystopian comic adventure novel, “Ready Player One.” The book made me think it might be necessary to recalibrate my internal geekometer : it recounts the struggles of a cluster of online gamers in a dystopian future trying to win a prize worth billions, and it is steeped in ’80s trivia, including the most arcane details of early game consoles. The science-fiction writer John Scalzi referred to the book as a “nerdgasm.”
It is perhaps revelatory in some way that I loved the book with a surprising fierceness — even though I’m some years older than the precise bull’s-eye of the demographic target. Cline himself is an ’80s fanatic, and he drove across the country for his readings and appearances in a DeLorean — the model of time-traveling car used in “Back to the Future.” He’s even added a version of the movie’s “flux capacitor” to his DeLorean, along with an “oscillation overthruster” from “Buckaroo Banzai,” among other references even more arcane.
Who, then, should read a work like this ? Well, how about Wil Wheaton, the actor who played the lead role in Rob Reiner’s 1986 film “Stand by Me” ? Even more nerdastic, he was Ensign Wesley Crusher on “Star Trek : The Next Generation.” Is that ’80s enough for you ? Does it help to know Wheaton built a second career as a kind of geek god, steeped in tech and gaming ?
Does it help even more to know that Wheaton is mentioned in Cline’s novel ?
When I asked Cline how the pairing had come about, he said Wheaton “was the first person that jumped to my mind when I thought of the audiobook.” Though the two had never met, “Wil was one of the people I wrote the book for.” Moreover, Wheaton had posted links to some of Cline’s poetry slam work on the news and discussion site Fark.com. When Cline’s agent reached out, Wheaton accepted the job. Simple as that. “He didn’t know he was a character in the book until the day he read that chapter,” Cline said with a laugh.
This, then, could certainly qualify as a match made in some twisted heaven, with narration that is somewhat snide and disaffected — like that of the teenage protagonist — and bitingly funny. No wonder Audible.com’s customers voted it their highest-rated audiobook last year. “Wil not only didn’t get in the way, he elevated it,” Cline said.
Gary Shteyngart, another novelist whose work I admire, was less enthusiastic about having his work transmuted into an aural experience. “I’ve never listened to an audiobook before,” he told me. He had heard, however, that the actor who reads the female roles in his “Super Sad True Love Story,” Ali Ahn, did “an excellent job.” He didn’t have a copy at hand, so I e‑mailed him a few tracks.
I don’t know what I expected him to say, but a few minutes later he wrote back with enormous excitement and enthusiasm, using multiple exclamation points and Internet abbreviations that, when spelled out, are unprintable here. “That is the most amazing thing I have heard all my life,” he gushed, summing up Ahn’s interpretation of the character Eunice with “Oy oy oy !”
He went on : “It’s so funny. And touching. No one’s ever made a movie of anything I’ve written, but I can almost see them speaking.” Ahn’s reading, with the tension of a young woman trying to divine via text messages whether her father has been beating her mother and sister, was, he said, “just heartbreaking. It’s a real person talking through pain. That’s just how I intended this.”
“I am a new convert to the power of audiobooks,” he said. He told me he planned to listen to the whole thing ; I threatened to tell him how it ends.
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