I’m not really a devotee of audio books but having had Elizabeth Kostova’s long novel The Swan Thieves on my ‘to read’ shelf for over a year, and seeing the audio book was available, I thought, why not?
My experience of listening to this audio book has made me muse over the difference between reading and being read to.
I loved Elizabeth Kostova’s first book, the literary vampire novel The Historian so I expected to also love The Swan Thieves – but I didn’t. I thought the story was very slight for a lengthy book, it was painfully detailed, the main narrator, a psychologist called Marlow, was uninspiring and terribly middle-American, and the sections set in late 19th century France were unconvincing.
In Kostova’s favour is a wonderful eye for detail, an ability to construct a beautiful sentence and to write authentically about art.
In the end, having merely listened to the book, I was unsure whether my impatience and ambivalence was really about the book itself or about the reading. This particular audio book was read by five actors/readers representing the different narratorial voices in the novel. Did I really hate Marlow the character, or Marlow the actor? Were the French parts really as bad as I thought, or were the Americanised French accents what turned me off?
Ultimately I can’t unequivocally say the book was as weak as I think because I can’t ascribe it all to Kostova. It does make me think that, just as I look for a narratorial voice I like when I select a book I want to read, I should also check an audio book for a reader whose ‘take’ on the narrative is sympathetic to my own.