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Old 03-06-2017, 02:28 PM   #1
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The Worst Audiobook Narrations EVER!

Now that I have your attention, what are the worst audiobook narrations you've encountered?

I've listened to a few amateur free ones that weren't all that great, but I give them a lot of leeway for not being professional. Professionals though I can be quite critical of since I'm paying good money. Two in particular stick out in my mind as being absolutely dreadful even though both were very professionally produced.

The first is Emma Thompson's reading of The Turn of the Screw. The sample at Audible is of the first chapter, which is the only chapter that Richard Armitage narrates since it is basically a completely separate prologue. He does a great job with his part, which led me to think the book would be well done even if I couldn't sample the person who'd be reading most of it. And when I decide to listen to an open domain classic I actually get a little put off with having to dredge through all the narrator options. Sometimes I gravitate towards picking in-copyright book just so I know there'll only be the one easy (professionally done) option.

So when I decided to listen to Turn of the Screw I saw that Emma Thompson had a version and hey, she's a great actress so easy choice, decision made. I knew quickly I'd made a mistake once I got to her narration but it's a short audio and I didn't want to deal with returning it and picking another narrator so I just decided to finish it out. First, she reads too quickly much of the time. I think she does this for dramatic urgency but it's just annoying to me.

Mainly though, she was much too overdramatic. Obviously she had decided that she was going to put a 'new' take on this classic story and try to 'enliven' it but she only succeeded in making it ridiculous and cartoonish. Perhaps we may mistakenly think of people from that period as more stolid and calm and reserved than they actually were but good god, Thompson made this poor governess into a bumbling, shrill, histrionic mess. Imagine you were reading a classic and the publisher decided that, to spruce it up and make it more immediate, it would be better to publish the book in all caps, exchange periods for exclamation points and sometimes no spaces between words. That's the effect I felt when listening to Thompson read this.

And anyone who's read Henry James knows that he is perhaps the least histrionic author of all. While this book and the governess character may be one of his more 'lively' because of her mounting confusion and dread, it's still all very restrained. But according to Thompson the governess and the housekeeper get worked up to almost screaming frenzies over and over again. And don't even get me started on the accent she gave to the poor housekeeper who I feel is a proper enough character yet Thompson makes her sound imbecilic.

Thankfully that was a short affair at any rate, but the other dreadful narration was much, much longer - Dune. I think it's the only version of it available at Audible, but again I loved the sample. Great music and great main narrator, Simon Vance. And many voice actors are listed, giving the impression this would be an excellent narration. In fact, it's the worst I've ever listened to.

If they had only hired Vance to do it all, it would've been fine. Or if they'd used the other voice actors properly it could've worked. But this is one giant trainwreck of an audiobook. What some genius decided to do is have Vance narrate the book and the characters, but then have the voice actors come in and voice the characters sometimes. Let's say about half the time, and sometimes it even changes back and forth during the same chapter. And absolutely no effort is made to have Vance's version of the characters and the other actors' versions of the characters be anything alike at all. For instance, the main antagonist goes back and forth between sounding like a smarmy British gentleman and (an American) Darth Vader. It is extremely confusing and just plain awful. Nowhere are you warned of this either, so you are left to your own comprehension to eventually work out that these very different versions of characters are supposed to be the same character.

At first after understanding what was happening, I wondered if perhaps originally there was an abridged dramatisation that someone decided to 'fill out' to an unabridgement with Vance. But though it still could be the case, it doesn't seem to make sense because it doesn't seem like enough parts use the voice actors so that an abridged version containing only those parts would be comprehensible enough. Even if someone did this to retroactively add in Vance to make a full unabridgement it was a bad judgment call, but if someone did this altogether at once, then the decision was a hundred times worse. There are so many questions. If this was all made together, why did they decide to only let the voice actors voice some lines here and there randomly? Why not let the voice actors voice ALL the spoken lines and just have Vance do the narration? If Vance was brought in later to fill out the narration, why didn't he make any effort to have his versions of the characters sound anything like the others?

It is all just so strange because otherwise this is just so professionally done. The music is great. The woman reading the prefaces to each chapter is great. Vance alone is great. The voice actors alone do a good job (well, it was odd that most of them really got into character while the woman who did Jessica spoke like she was a narrator simply narrating the lines rather than acting them out...she didn't do a bad job per se, just different from the others). But, once it is all thrown together and sewn up haphazardly in this frankenstein fashion, it becomes the worst audiobook of all time. Imagine sitting down to watch a film. One scene will play out as an actual movie, but the next scene will be a man by himself on a stage earnestly acting out everyone's parts. And some scenes jump back and forth between all the actors and the man on the stage even from line to line. And the film just goes back and forth like that. Unless you're purposely watching some avant garde piece done for effect, you'd think it was ridiculous. Same thing here. It was so bad it boggles the mind.
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Old 03-06-2017, 03:13 PM   #2
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First that come to mind are David Hewson's Rome series. The first 2 are narrated by Christopher Kay (later ones by Saul Reichin are excellent) and every Italian accent sounds like 'slappa your face' . Actually wished I'd read these rather than listened.

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Old 03-06-2017, 03:35 PM   #3
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Alexandra O'Karma's narration of Laura Lippman's To the Power of Three is the worst ever. Really, what can you say about a narration that includes sounds of not only breathing and lip smacking, but also stomach rumbling? I presume a lot of it was the fault of recording engineers and improperly oversensitive equipment, but this should never have been foisted on unsuspecting listeners. It was horrible.
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Old 03-06-2017, 04:55 PM   #4
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http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fan...ook/B004NTZ1A8
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Old 03-07-2017, 08:13 AM   #5
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I'm not sure I can pick a worst ever. I recently abandoned The Red Tent read by Carol Bilger; her arch tone irritated me beyond measure. I felt bad about it, too, because it was recommended to me by a nephew who generally suggests good books and he loved it. I'll try the print version eventually, but it may have been spoiled for all time.

My pet peeve is mispronunciations and unfortunately they're legion. I recently listened to a book read by Gildart Jackson and not only did he mispronounce many proper names, he did so inconsistently. Mather, for example, as in Cotton and Increase, rhymes with "rather" and not "bather," but he switched back and forth. In the first section, he said the name of a local river, the Piscataqua, correctly each time it occurred, but in the second section he consistently got it wrong. What happened there?

Even the gods occasionally have feet of clay. My heart cracked a little when Nadia May mispronounced Lady Mary Coke's name. And it turns out that Frederick Davidson also mispronounces the single most mispronounced word in audiobooks, "flaccid." It's not flassid, people; it's said exactly the same as the "acci" in accident. Eventually I caught Simon Vance although I understand why he got Sault Ste. Marie wrong.

Still, Nadia, Fred and Si are in a different category altogether than someone like Xe Sands, a popular narrator who nonetheless butchered The Romanov Sisters. I would never listen to a book read by her again.

Last edited by issybird; 03-07-2017 at 08:18 AM.
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Old 03-07-2017, 12:37 PM   #6
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According to my Concise Oxford, flaccid can be pronounced either way, so I guess you can cut Davidson some slack.
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Old 03-07-2017, 12:39 PM   #7
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According to my Concise Oxford, flaccid can be pronounced either way, so I guess you can cut Davidson some slack.
I'll never give in on this one! Standards, there have to be standards!
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Old 03-07-2017, 02:34 PM   #8
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I'll never give in on this one! Standards, there have to be standards!
I'm with Issy on flaccid, but I wonder if the British routinely pronounce it differently?
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Old 03-07-2017, 02:43 PM   #9
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I'll never give in on this one! Standards, there have to be standards!
Fair enough.-) What did Simon Vance do to the Soo?
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Old 03-07-2017, 04:08 PM   #10
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I'll never give in on this one! Standards, there have to be standards!
Ditto for anti being pronounced ant-eye .

I have never heard flaccid pronounced according to issybird's standards; i have always heard it pronounced with a soft c rather than a hard c.
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Old 03-07-2017, 04:12 PM   #11
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Is ant-eye good or bad? As a separate "word" (James was anti everything) I use ant-eye. As a prefix, not so much.
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Old 03-07-2017, 05:51 PM   #12
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Why is that terrible?
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Old 03-07-2017, 05:55 PM   #13
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Ditto for anti being pronounced ant-eye .

I have never heard flaccid pronounced according to issybird's standards; i have always heard it pronounced with a soft c rather than a hard c.
It's got a soft c. It comes after the hard c. Seriously, just like accident. Or coccyx. I'm sure there are other examples. If it were spelled flacid, like acid, that would be different.

ETA: Or vaccine!

Last edited by issybird; 03-07-2017 at 06:07 PM.
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Old 03-07-2017, 05:57 PM   #14
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Fair enough.-) What did Simon Vance do to the Soo?
Sigh. You know it of course. "Saul." Like it was French or something!
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Old 03-07-2017, 06:52 PM   #15
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When it comes to locations, unless it's near me, I probably wouldn't know the difference. I have no idea where "Sault Ste. Marie", let alone that it's said "Soo", not "Salt". I probably personally butcher all kinds of placenames. I listened to a book that recently had a bit of Welsh dialog and names in it. Assuming the narrator was right, I can only say I wouldn't have gotten any of the pronunciation right!

Back to the original post, I'd have to say to some degree, whether a narrator was "good" or "bad" would be subjective.

Issybird mentions Xe Sands. She does seem to be popular, but in the series of books I've listened to which she narrates, her "breathy sexy kitten" voice drove me crazy. That's the voice she uses for the non-dialog. Her dialog voices fit the characters, as best as I remember.

Angela Dawe gives emphasis in her non-dialog sections as if she's reading to a metronome in most of the books I have that she's read. Interestingly, in the most recent book (or two?) I've listened to from her, she's added a statement that she's a member of SAG-AFTA (I could be getting that acronym wrong). I think she's taken some acting classes that definitely improved her narration recently.
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