I've always preferred reading to listening to the radio, so I wasn't sure how much I'd like following a story by ear. Add to my natural disinclination for auditory media the distractions of driving in rush hour traffic with a toddler in tow, I expected the experiment to be an "epic fail," as my teens would say. However, I have found myself completely caught up in Da Chen's story (so much so that it's easy to forget that I'm supposed to be driving!). I haven't had any trouble following the plot or keeping the characters straight, and my fear of missing important details h
as not materialized.
BROTHERS is the story of two half-brothers who grow up in China during the end of Mao's cultural revolution and the years immediately following. I've always had a fascination for that period in Chinese history ever since reading André Malraux's LA CONDITION HUMAINE (MAN'S FATE) in college. Da Chen tells the story by alternating chapters between the two brothers, using the first
person point-of-view for each. On audio, a different reader reads for each of them. Two voices make the listening experience a lively one and aids in keeping the story lines separate. (Given my limited experience with audio books, I'm not sure if using multiple readers is typical or not.) One thing I do find irritating is that one of the readers adopts a breathy almost-falsetto when he reads the lines of female characters, a ploy I feel is completely unnecessary. I do notice, too, that the audio format draws attention to clichéd sentences or images. Shifts in register or wooden sentences interrupt the narrative flow and distract me from the story, probably to a greater degree than if I had encountered these weaker lines in print. Listening to the story being read highlights, for me, the sound and style of the language. This observation validates one of the strategies I rely on when writing my own fiction--I read each and every passage aloud to check the flow and rhythm. I'll be curious to see if I focus on language to the same extent I have with that of BROTHERS when I listen to my next audio book.
Have you listened to audio books? What has your experience with them been? I'm certainly glad I finally tried. If nothing else, I feel like I'm making a stand against the discouraging truth of there being "too many books, too little time"!