Adventures with Audiobooks: The Smart One by Jennifer Close

I used to listen to audiobooks as a child, but they haven’t really been part of my ‘library’ as an adult. We listened to A Song of Ice and Fire and Lord of the Rings on road trips, but that was about it. My new job requires me to take a 30-minute bus to and from the office, and I get car-sick if I read on the bus (the bane of my life) so I decided to try an audiobook. Sadly there wasn’t one of the book I am currently reading as I thought that would be the perfect solution, to combine paper and audio. Instead I opted for a light read that wouldn’t distract me from my main book, and something that was on my long-term TBR. This was The Smart One by Jennifer Close.

I read Close’s previous novel, Girls in White Dresses, and enjoyed it without loving it. The Smart One sounded good though, and I thought I may as well give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen?

Well, turns out it’s much harder to make your own judgements on a book, and get to know it in your own way, when it’s read to you by someone else. That person’s intonations and stresses affect how you interpret certain scenes and characters, and the person’s voice and tone sets a mood for the whole thing that you can’t really escape. This isn’t a problem if you like the reader’s voice and they remain fairly neutral while still conveying relevant stresses, implications, and free indirect speech. But if the reader takes over as it were, and you can’t see the book any way but theirs, then it’s kind of a problem. This is what happened to me listening to The Smart One.

2013 Vintage (UK) paperback edition
2013 Vintage (UK) paperback edition

It’s a novel about a family, and their successes and failures, and the two daughters in particular are having a pretty rubbish time of it when we meet them. We hear chapters from each of their perspectives (though all in the third person), and we hear all about their terrible lives – and because this is being read to you, by this particular reader, it is intense and hard to escape. They are normal life woes, nothing earth-shattering, but my impression of the whole thing was that it was really depressing. I think if I were reading the paper book, I would be able to brush these things off or at least see them in the wider context of the book; but when you are listening to an audiobook you are so involved in each moment, it being read to you alone, that it’s hard to remember everything that’s around it. I think this would be ok, and indeed good, with certain books, or a book that was better written or that I liked more. That was also a problem – it’s hard to get away from bad writing in an audiobook. Hearing a person read the bad writing is like hearing someone you don’t like talking at you for hours. You get annoyed, and you can’t skim over it. Suffice to say I have not chosen to listen to The Smart One for the last few days. In case you want to avoid it, the reader is an actress called Rebecca Lowman, and this version is on iBooks and Audible. She has a lovely voice, but she made the whole thing really bleak.

I think in future I need to be very selective about the audiobooks I listen to – it is a completely different experience from reading a paper book, one that isn’t always good.

Plus they are really expensive in the iBooks store. What is up with that?!

I know some people love audiobooks, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. I will definitely try an audiobook again, but be really selective. I guess that’s a good plan?


6 thoughts on “Adventures with Audiobooks: The Smart One by Jennifer Close”

  1. Such an interesting post, Lizzi. I’ve never listened to an audiobook having always commuted by foot or train – I have the same problem with reading on the bus – but your comments make complete sense. It’s rather like seeing a film adaptation of a book: you’re stuck with the filmmaker’s images rather than your own. I hope you can find something that works for you.


  2. I feel kind of the same way about audiobooks; I rarely LOVE a book I listened to as much as I might have loved it if I had read it on paper. For me, though, I think it has less to do with the narrator’s reading style and more to do with the fact that listening to an audiobook is so much more passive than reading a physical book. It’s hard to be as invested when I’m just letting the words wash over me, rather than actively cramming them into my brain. I think this is why I prefer non-fiction on audio, since I’m listening to learn rather than to hear a story.


  3. I tend to only read audiobooks of books I have read, but I have some exceptions (Rachel Dratch’s memoir for example, or LotR). I like an audioook, but I’m so easily distracted it’s helpful when I know what’s happening.


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