January 28th, 2012
|07:16 pm - He do the police in different voices|
The last three books I have listened to on audio have been made extra enjoyable by how well they were read. Those were the American horror novels, 11.22.63 and Eutopia, and Derek Jacobi reading The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (it's so long since I read that myself, maybe 40 years. I thought I would refresh my memory). In all three cases the reader had to capture class, ethnic and regional variation by subtle use of voice.
Of course, I am fairly ignorant about American regional accents, but I could tell that in the reading of Stephen King's novel the people of Maine spoke like this and the people of Dallas and Fort Worth spoke like that. The Jewish pawn broker was given a voice like Burt Lancaster, which seems authentic and elegant. I took the various accents of Eutopia on trust - Chicago, black east-coast intellectual, Montana etc. - but I am sure the voice artist knew what he was doing. Jacobi, as you might imagine, was truly excellent. Holmes stories rapidly introduce cameo characters, defined by age, class and background. Jacobi adjusted his voice delivery to each case: very enjoyable.
Now I am listening to a new book, which promises to be right up my street. It's called Bitter Seeds and it is fantasy/horror novel set during the 2nd world war with the Nazi's deploying X-Man style ubermenschen and plucky British pagans invoking the ancient powers (as I think indeed happened, though to what effect I could not say). It's set in Europe, but written by an American author, and read by an American voice artist.
I think the voice artist is very good, in general terms, but he does not understand British accents. It's jarring to hear a butler from Nottinghamshire speaking in a cheeky Cockney accent. The Polish spy had a Russian accent, and so on. You don't even know how much you know about voice, until you hear it done wrong. This is not me saying that American readers are no good, far from it, I have enjoyed so many lately. It could easily happen the other way if a British reader assayed an American book, giving every character the same drawl.
I was talking to H about this and he thinks that there are more rigidly defined regional accents in Britain than other countries. I argued that possibly we are simply more aware of the variation in our own country, and it may be similarly complex elsewhere, but we don't know it. I honestly don't know whether (say) a German or a Malaysian can distinguish the town that someone comes from, and their relative prosperity, from their voice. I would be interested to hear other people's opinions about that.
I've enjoyed Simon Prebble's readings of Sherlock Holmes, and haven't yet tried any of Jacobi's. My ear for the subtleties of British regional accents is probably slightly above the American average, but by no means refined. Listening to Prebble's reading after having listened to his Jonathan Strange at least four times made it clear that while he has a good range of voices and accents, it's not inexhaustible, and I recognized Sir Walter Pole in his Watson (for instance).
I thought the reader of King's 11-22-63 did a very good job overall, limiting himself to vocal "gestures," if you will, rather than giving a full aural depiction, and thereby kind of staying out of the way of the story.
(I've been mainlining episodes of Spooks, by the way, and there's a strong tendency for the British actors playing Americans to play them all as sort of generic Southerners, which accent group, I understand, is the easiest for a British speaker to approach.)
I wonder if a Southern accent has implications of the more entrenched and right-wing face of America, a more hawkish and nationalistic role. That may be a subtlety lost on the makers of Spooks though.
It certainly has those implications for Blue State Americans. There's some validity to that stereotype, but it is, of course, a stereotype.