Books have voices

Wednesday June 06, 2007 @ 10:04 PM (UTC)

Some writer-voices or book-voices I understand. For instance, the fact that huge swaths of I, Claudius sound in my mind as if read by Derek Jacobi? Obvious! Hugh Laurie’s Wooster narrating ‘Jeeves and the Rum Cove’? Even a blithering idiot can see where that comes from! Some books generate their own voices, voices that don’t belong to actors, but to the author, the character, or the tome itself. Patrick O’Brian, I am looking at you.

But why does Virginia Woolf sound like Emma Thompson?


Who else is on your list of empowered British females with a slightly romantic flair? Jane Seymour just wasn’t going to cut it.

I was reading something lately-To Say Nothing of the Dog, a moderately good sci-fi stuck mostly in victorian times-and though it was a first person male narrator, I kept feeling like it was a female voice. Dammed annoying I tell you. Almost as annoying as the numbers of people I call on the telephone who call me Ma’am. I mean, I’m not sure I even like ‘sir’ most of the time, but ma’am? ugh.

On NPR last weekend, on Sound Opinions (two music geeks debating pop music, much fun), they were talking about best all time cover songs and how sometimes musicians just “make a song their own.” (The Kingston’s “Louie Louie,” The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Aretha’s “Respect,” etc.) I think actors can do this to book voices too. Not all of us had the luxury of reading High Fidelity first, but if you did you know the change I’m talking about. That book was British once.

You may be right about E. Thompson. Although the list may actually be called “People I secretly want to be when I grow up”, and V. Woolf would thus be on it, tho’ I don’t fancy drowning myself and Vita S-W has never drawn me over-much.

Hmm. I would have to cast my mind back to discover whether I’ve noticed such a big shift in narrative voice twixt books and movies, but it does represent one of my fears about movies based on books, and one of the reasons I avoid some of same.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t have much of a telephone job, these days, but I haven’t experienced the “Ma’am” very much within recent memory. Perhaps you should tell them you prefer to be addressed as “Your Grace”. That’s nice and gender-neutral, n’est-ce pas?

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