I’ve just finished listening to Ian Carmichael reading Dorothy L Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon, the last of the Lord Peter Wimsey books. This post isn’t really about the book or Sayers or Wimsey, but about the delights of audio books. The book is wonderful, the culmination of the relationship between Lord Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane, the woman he saved from the hangman in Strong Poison & pursued for five years until they finally came together in an equal, loving relationship at the end of Gaudy Night. Busman’s Honeymoon is really one for the Wimsey fans though. It’s been described as a love story with detective interruptions which pretty much sums it up. The book begins with Peter & Harriet’s wedding & takes them on their honeymoon to Tallboys, a Tudor farmhouse in the village where Harriet grew up. The bliss of the honeymoon is disturbed by the discovery of the body of the former owner in the cellar & the Wimseys investigate. There’s a wonderful cast of eccentric villagers, from Mr Puffett the chimneysweep to Miss Twitterton, the victim’s niece, a spinster who keeps Buff Orpington hens. I’ve read the book probably half a dozen times & listened to the audio book at least as often.
My library had all the Wimsey books read by Ian Carmichael on cassette & recently they’ve been released on CD so I’m taking the chance to listen to them again. To me, Ian Carmichael is Peter Wimsey. Whenever I read the books, I hear his voice. He played Wimsey on television in the early 70s & you can see a photo of my old video copies of some of the series above. That series didn’t include any of the Harriet Vane books & in the 80s, Edward Petherbridge & Harriet Walter starred in a new TV series of Strong Poison, Have His Carcase & Gaudy Night, all excellent adaptations. Ian Carmichael died at the great age of 90 earlier this year & I was interested to read that he had also played Bertie Wooster on TV in the 60s. As a recent Wodehouse convert, I think he would have been perfect in the role.
I’ve ended up writing about the book after all but it’s the fortunate combination of book & narrator that I really want to emphasize. Elaine’s post at Random Jottings about the delights of listening to Richard Armitage reading Georgette Heyer led me to reflect on my own love of audio books. I always listen to an audio book in the car on my daily drive to work. My library has a great collection of unabridged audio books & I look forward to each new delivery. Abridged vs unabridged is another point. I prefer unabridged recordings because I wouldn’t want to read an abridged version of a book so why listen to only part of the book? I’m lucky to have had access to a wide collection of unabridged audio as I certainly couldn’t afford to buy them. I also enjoy radio productions. The BBC have done hundreds of full-cast recordings of classics, Shakespeare, fiction, mysteries, anything you could think of. But, I mostly listen to unabridged audio books read by one narrator.
Some of my favourite listening experiences have been Harriet Walter reading Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy, Gwen Watford reading some of the Miss Read books, Christian Rodska reading the C J Sansom Shardlake mysteries, Cornelius Garrett reading Anne Perry’s WWI series (I loved his reading so much that I would wait for the audio book to come out rather than reading the book), Bill Wallis’s gruff, smoky voice reading the Ruth Dudley Edwards mysteries, Samuel West reading Mary Wesley & Iris Murdoch, Robert Glenister reading The Fall by Simon Mawer. My absolute favourites though are the Barbara Pym recordings done by Chivers Audio many years ago. I listened to the cassettes until they were nearly worn out & I do hope they release them on CD as part of their current program of Bestsellers on CD. Juliet Stevenson reading Excellent Women, Susan Jameson reading A Glass of Blessings & Julia McKenzie reading Some Tame Gazelle were my favourites. I still hear their voices when I reread the books.
Of course, not every listening experience is a stand-out. There are some narrators I avoid like the plague because their reading is so dull it puts me to sleep. Not a good idea when driving! Audio books are another way of reading for me. I never have enough reading time but at least I can have a book read to me when I’m driving, ironing or cooking. Now if I could only work out a way to read in my sleep, I might have a chance at getting through my tbr shelves before my 100th birthday.