Note: I listened to all of this week’s books, so my opinions are based on the narrator’s performance just as much as the overall quality of the story.
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (Little, Brown and Company / Hachette Audio): This book begins with a woman waking up in a body that is not hers. She is reading a letter that she found in her pocket while standing in the rain, surrounded by bodies. The letter explains who she used to be and that her life is in danger. It tells her how to escape, where to hide, and gives her a choice as to what comes next. This new woman can continue to live life as Myfanwy Thomas, Rook of the Chequy, or she can run. This new woman wants to run. She wants to live her own life in paradise, but when that life is almost taken from her a second time, she realizes that she has to stay and find out what happened to the real Myfanwy. Oh, and she is in possession of superhuman powers and works for an agency that protects the citizens of the British Isles from supernatural threats. So, it’s not your typical thriller. It is a fast-paced mix of spy thriller and superhero saga. Some readers have remarked on the similarity between characters while reading the print edition. In the hands of Susan Duerden, that is not an issue. She is but one woman, but she has an endless variety of voices. I didn’t want to stop listening.
VERDICT: Buy (and be prepared to read it from cover to cover or to sit in your driveway listening all night)
This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz (Riverhead / Penguin Audio): Junot Diaz has returned with another set of stories from his go-to narrator, Yunior. This time, the reader is taken on a tour through Yunior’s life, trying to make sense of what it is that men, specifically Dominican men, do to lose the women they love. In simple terms – they cheat. They always cheat. Their reasons for doing so are varied. Their guilt about what they have done is sincere. They would take it back if they could. Except that they probably would have cheated with someone else instead. Or they would at some point in the future.
Yunior doesn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about the actual cheating. Even when he tries to make sense of it, he can’t. But he knows that this is the root of the problem. He knows that this is why he has ended up alone. I try, when I read books like this one, to remember that the narrator is not – necessarily – the author. It is difficult with these stories. Diaz narrates his own book, and while I was often disappointed that he was reading them the way that a professor would read out loud to his class, I found that he was convincing enough to make me wonder just how many times he had cheated. This collection is either the work of a very talented storyteller or a highly personal confession. I don’t know whether to appreciate his writing or judge him for his behavior.
VERDICT: Buy it in print (especially if you are already a fan of his work). Bypass the audio.
The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney (Putnam / Penguin Audio): I will be honest. I only listened to this book, only even looked at this book, because Dan Stevens was the narrator. Who wouldn’t want to listen to Matthew Crawley read them a story? I had read the book’s description, but I was turned off by the gypsies. I had seen too much of a Romany girl and her family on some TV show last spring, and the thought of reading another story about a Romany family and their secrets was not appealing. I gave it a chance, though, as I drove across country last week.
While this is not my favorite book this year, it definitely exceeded expectations. The story takes place in England in the 1980s. A private investigator, whose father was Romany, is hired to help find a missing Romany woman named Rose. He tracks down the family that she had married into, the Jenkos, and tries to figure why she left her infant son behind six years before. The narration shifts between time periods and characters. In print, this shift might be hard to follow. Stevens, however, keeps everything in check, giving a distinct voice to each character. In fact, I’d say his performance outshines the material.
VERDICT: Borrow the audio; Bypass in print.
Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson (Harper / Harper Audio): After a long break from audiobooks, this is the one that brought me back. Watson tells the story of Christine, a woman who wakes up every morning not knowing who she is (a common theme in this batch of audiobooks; both The Rook and The Invisible Ones open with the protagonist suffering from amnesia). She trusts that the man she wakes up next to is her husband, Ben. She believes the stories that he tells her about the past. But she also trusts that the Dr. Nash on the other end of the phone is trying to help her. She trusts the words that she has written in the notebook that he tells her about. As she reads, she realizes that someone is not telling the truth. Someone is not to be trusted. She will have to trust her memories, as unreliable as they are, to figure out who that someone is.
Orlagh Cassidy is the narrator for this audio, and she is amazing! Her performance is the perfect mix of confusion, frustration, anger, and confidence. Nicole Kidman plays Christine in the film adaptation, and I can’t imagine that she’ll do half as well as Cassidy.
VERDICT: Buy – both the print and the audio. It’s that good.