Recently, a reader of this blog, noticing that I turn into a drivelling fan girl whenever P G Wodehouse crops up, invited me to review a new audiobook edition of Right Ho, Jeeves.
Hugely flattered, I returned a resounding “Gimme.” Only rather more gracefully phrased. At least, I hope so.
And then the doubts set in. Had I implied I was qualified in any way to do this? I had never read/heard/listened to an audiobook. That’s ANY audiobook. The odd 15 minutes with Book at Bedtime on Radio 4 was the limit of my literary listening.
But this was a whole book. What if I didn’t care for the experience? AAAARGH!
When To Read an Audiobook
I mined my friends’ experience. Most of them laughed. One of them simply refused to believe that I had never listened to an audiobook. “You would have, if you had to do the school run,” she said darkly.
“It’s the only way I can read on the way to work,” said another.
Um – when I had a day job I regularly read a book on the train. And I mean a proper book, with pages and everything.
True, I overshot Mansion House occasionally. But I only once had to walk back to Threadneedle Street from the wilds of Aldgate.
I was reading Hawksmoor. Anyone else who has read it will know that there are places where no sane person would risk closing that book without finding out what happened next.
My interlocutor dismissed that with an airy wave. “The trains are more crowded now,” she said dismissively. “If you moved a hand to turn a page, someone would probably have you up on an assault charge.”
Whereas, she explained, she just opened the book on her smartphone, inserted her earphones, and there she was, away with the fairies. Or the society of her destination du jour, anyway. Not sure I’d have wanted to be alone with Hawksmoor in an underground train crowded with potential murderers, now I come to think of it.
Sociability and Statistics
But the ultimate reassurance came from friends Laura and Paul.
I remembered them saying that their great treat of an evening, after seeing their children through the trauma of homework and teeth brushing, was to collapse onto the sofa and listen to a book together.
Well, OK. If civilised people like L& P enjoy it, there was at least a 50% chance that I would.
There is also a school of thought that the audiobook will save traditional publishing. Some of the statistics quoted at me looked a bit dodgy. (The “vast majority” of audiobook readers discovered to be under 45, turned out to be 54%). I dug around until my eyeballs bubbled but had to give up on the numbers. I found some interesting insights from industry participants, though.
What is clear, is that audiobooks are growing and, albeit from a low base, faster than other sectors of the industry. They may also be growing the market for books – research commissioned by the Audiobook Publishers Association last year claims that audiobook-readers listen to an average of 15 books a year. So audiobooks are definitely a Good Thing.
The Audiobook Reader is King
In fact, of course, I need not have worried. ( Well, Doh! I hear you say.)
Of course, Right Ho, Jeeves is a pippin.
For those who can’t connect title and content (and who should blame you: titles were NOT the Master’s strong point), it is the one where we are introduced to Madeline Bassett. And learn that, inexplicable as it may seem, she thinks the stars are God’s daisy chain. Even more inexplicably, Gussie Fink-Nottle, the well-known newt-fancier, believes he is in love with the woman.
I think I’m on my fourth copy, the first two having fallen to pieces. The penultimate copy I left with an interpreter/ translator in Vilnius, when she couldn’t stop laughing.
And in this new audiobook, the pippin has found absolutely the Right Man in reader Simon Jones.
For he is THE Simon Jones. That’s right. Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Star of TV (Brideshead, Blackadder), film, Broadway and the West End. Soon to be seen in the Big Screen Downton Abbey.
And he is wonderful. His Bertie is all that I could want and more. For this Bertie is not just a silly ass, as so often he is portrayed. There IS at least one silly ass among those present – and Mr Jones’s Fink-Nottle is a thing of wonder – but he is not Bertram Wooster.
For this Bertie is Everyman. Not above rubbing it in a bit, when he thinks he’s scored a point over Jeeves, he is nonetheless willing to bicycle nine miles and back for the Greater Good.
Though sometimes he gets carried away with the exuberance of his own invention, Bertie is always there to support a friend in love or an aunt in need. He endures their peevish reproaches with dignity.
He is a man of action and decision. When he is wrong, he owns up, like a gent. And he never bears a grudge.
Astonishingly for a man who is not a lifelong Wodehousian, Mr Jones also has just the right tone of County Hunting Horn in Aunt Dahlia, of Brooklyn Franglais in Anatole, of weird specky-four-eyes in Gussie, and the rest of the dramatic personae are equally well-served. And his account of The Market Snodsbury Prize Giving is just about perfect. I wept with laughter.
Review of Audiobook Right Ho, Jeeves, read by Simon Jones
The novel is wonderful, of course. And Simon Jones’s masterly reading made me hear and see things in it that I had either forgotten or, I blush to confess, never really noticed before.
Together they make an explosion of pure delight.
The bonus short story, My Man, Jeeves is an amusing early effort, and new to me. And the conversation between Mr Jones and producer Alison Larkin at the end is a hoot – and really enlightening, about Wodehouse, reading, Douglas Adams, friendship and gossip.
Five stars? Not enough. A whole God’s Daisy chain.
I’ve just taken to reading audiobooks on the iPad. The only one I read in days of yore was on discs and hence hard to find your place. Very good though – about the chap in Broadmoor who helped compile the OED. The Surgeon of Crowthorne, it was called.
Recently I’ve listened to La Belle Sauvage by P Pullman, beautifully read by Martin Sheen whose ability to speak in different voices and accents every other sentence is astonishing.
I like to listen to audiobooks in bed now that you can set them to play for say, half an hour. In the old days you’d fall asleep then find the book still merrily chatting away to itself at 4am.
I remember the problems of finding your place when I used to borrow them from the library for my husband. So much better now!
Goodness, Susie, I hadn’t realised that you could program the thing like that. Mind you. I “read’ this book in three or four goes, off my laptop. Yet another reason to transfer to a smart phone, I guess.
I really liked The Surgeon of Crowthorne. In fact I wondered whether the poor chap’s victim – George Merritt – might have been one of my maternal great grandfathers. But not enough to do any research, I admit. I certainly felt for Minor and was glad he found occupation, even in Broadmoor. Being a doctor in those days exposed you to untold horrors, I feel.
The only audiobooks I’ve ever listened to were a few Roald Dahls on cassette in the car when the kids were young, and we used to go out and about a lot. I won one in a raffle at the Georgette Heyer day I went to with Sophie years ago – but I’ve never listened to it. The kids do, all the time, and I know my own readers do. but I’d have to listen on my laptop, too, as I’m still resisting a smart phone. However, I’m beginning to think there are reasons to bite the bullet, Right Ho Jeeves being one of them. But I want to know – how does he do Madeline Basset?
We used to listen to the Just William stories in the car, Lesley, and also the epic poems read by Robert Powell – they were on tapes of course.
The Bassett is perfection. Exactly the right degree of wafty soupiness without lapsing into two dimensions. She even sighs right. That shows you!
It sounds like a real treat, Sophie.
You’ve got me salivating. Love that book and this sounds ideal listening. I think that one and Code of the Woosters with the ubiquitous cow creamer are the funniest Bertie stories.
Oh, yes, the book is just note perfect, from the opening – in which he considers all the risks of jumping in mid-action versus the slow build-up with judicious helpings of backstory – to the last word. And Simon Jones is possibly the perfect reader.
I recently opted for the audio version of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, la bookclub choice, largely because I couldn’t bear to read it. The book left me cold but it was beautifully read by Richard Armitage. I listened on my Kindle. My daughter uses audio books because she never has the tme to sit down and read these days. She uses Alexa and has to frequently tell her to stop if the children (or workmen) wander into the kitchen at inappropriate moments!
That’s interesting Liz – having it read to you somehow gets you over that shrinking horror? I must remember that. I seem to get jumpier every year over what I can and cannot bear to let into my mind.
Love the thought of your daughter yelling at her virtual assistant to shut up NOW at potentially embarrassing moments.