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The narrator can make or break an audiobook

I never would have imagined how much I would come to love audiobooks.

In the past I considered myself a purist – books had a feel and a smell that couldn’t be replaced; no ereader for me, and listening to an audiobook was not reading.

Now, I have a list of audiobooks saved on my phone so that I can read anywhere, anytime. And I’ll never travel without my beloved kindle.

Over the years since my misguided stand on what is and isn’t a ‘real’ book, I have embraced audiobooks and now I couldn’t walk, vacuum, mow without one.

And I have to admit they have a very real advantage that traditional books just don’t offer – the narrator.

The narrator can have a huge impact on a book, bringing a character to life and making the book truly transporting.

Here are some of my favourite audiobooks, due to the power of the narrator:

  • The Nickel Boys read by Colson Whitehead and J.D. Jackson, The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie and Monkey Grip read by Helen Garner

It still strikes me as a real honour to listen to an author read their book. It is something that Colson Whitehead does perfectly in The Nickel Boys, and that Helen Garner nails in Monkey Grip.

However, one that was particularly striking was Vicki Laveau-Harvie reading her memoir, The Erratics. In her husky voice, Laveau-Harvie recalls how she felt visiting her abusive and neglectful mother in her old age.

The fact that the book was narrated by the author added such authenticity and immediacy, that it was difficult to turn it off when I finished my walk.

  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Is it possible to have a charismatic voice? If it is, then the narrator of Candice Carty-Williams’s Queenie has it in spades. Shvorne Marks really inhabited the character of Queenie and her hilarious friends as they recounted their bad luck in love. The irresistible voice of Marks boosted my enjoyment of what was already a fabulous book.

  • French Braid by Anne Tyler

Is there anyone better at narrating an all-American novel than an all-American voice, with the perfect southern accent? That was what I experienced when listening to French Braid by Anne Tyler.

With such a familiar and warm voice, I wouldn’t be surprised if the narrator grew up next door to the generations of the family that she spoke about.

This book and narrator make an ideal audio combination.

  • Three Sisters by Heather Morris

The beautiful voice of the narrator of Heather Rose’s novel, Three Sisters, complemented the heart-warming story of three Jewish sisters who were imprisoned in concentration camps during the Holocaust.

What was even more moving, though, was the words spoken by one of those sisters. I was astonished to hear one of the girls – now an elderly women – recount her experience at the beginning and end of the novel.

It was a poignant reminder of the humans at the heart of the story.

  • The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

The rich, deep voice of the narrator of The Beekeeper of Aleppo really evoked the honey-scented air in a long-gone, peaceful Syria. It also humanised the refugee experience – it was hard not to think of a kindly grandfather when the narrator told the story of the beekeeper forced to leave his country due to war.

  • Therese Raquin by Emile Zola read by Kate Winslet

How could I not mention Kate Winslet’s reading of Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin? This is a haunting, dark novel, set in a tailor shop in a dank arcade in Paris.

Winslet brings a sense of the ominous to the novel, and I felt compelled to find out what happened to the awful characters.

Who would have thought that Winslet could be just as engrossing in an audiobook as she is on film.

  • City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Possibly my favourite audiobook ever, the narrator of City of Girls embodied the innocence, courage and sense of fun of the main character, Vivian, who leaves home to experience life in the Big Apple.

I couldn’t get enough of this story or the narrator that brought the characters and the city of New York to life.

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