Something Good: Kenny Blyth reads Christopher Brookmyre

I had occasion to discuss my position on audiobooks recently while driving around Melbourne.

I don’t think I’ve written about those positions here before, and indeed the extent to which I make use of audiobooks might surprise people who expect me to be a purist in my love of fiction.

Actually, I am a bit of a snob about it. As a general rule, I restrict my fiction audiobooks1 to things I’ve already read, or books where I expect the plot to be the major component–I don’t want books where the writing is key unless I’ve already had a chance to savour the writing, you know? So mostly my car listening is focused on “books I’ve already read”, “books I don’t think I will read”, “books I won’t mind only getting the plot from”, and “books where the performance will really add something to the text”.

Now that last category is an interesting one–there are several ways in which the audio version of a novel could exceed the original, if not on some kind of absolute objective scale at least subjectively for certain people. I don’t want to get into a whole theoretical discussion of that, though, since the point here is actually to highlight a good example.

So, with that in mind, let me say that, for me, one way that listening to an audiobook can be a better experience than reading the book is if the reader’s performance of the book adds something to the presentation that, for whatever reason, would have been absent from the notional “reading” I would do in my head.

I’ve seen a few excellent examples of this, although honestly it’s the exception to a staggering degree.

One of those examples, to come to the point of this post, is Kenny Blyth reading Christopher Brookmyre.

I’ve read all of Brookmyre’s novels, I think. They tend to be comic caper pieces, which I generally quite enjoy, but which are a bit popcorn-y. Just in case that isn’t clear enough, let’s say that they would make great reading for a long flight because they’ll keep you turning pages, and smiling while you do it, but when you’re done you probably won’t spend a lot of time thinking about the book. (While I definitely enjoyed Brookmyre’s comedy about a particular clever set of bank robbers, for example, something like Tibor Fischer‘s The Thought Gang would soundly trounce2 it in any kind of “which does Chris think is a better book” competition, since Fischer’s book has the caper, the comedy, but also brings the literary prose, the things to think about after, etc.)

Well, apparently one of the things I was missing to really appreciate Brookmyre’s stuff, especially some of the more deadpan comedy, was a good delivery in the native dialect. Most of the action in Brookmyre’s books takes place in Scotland, or at least involves Scottish characters, and a good portion of the dialogue is written in the Scottish lingo.

Well, having someone deliver that text, especially the dialogue, like a native really makes it pop. The result is something better than I could render it in my head—what with my never having spent a significant amount of time around that version of English. Certainly little things like the way “wee one” (for child, obviously) becomes “wain”, or how “mind” means “remember” add colour, but it’s even more prevalent when words like “bampot” and the ever popular “polis” start getting thrown about.

I should also note that Blyth does a wonderful job performing–it’s not like any fellow with a thick Scots accent could do this. Indeed, Blyth not only does a good job of bringing pacing, and emotion to the delivery, but he also varies the thickness of the accent during different portions of the story depending on the nature of the different characters–and indeed even outside of the Scots dialect, he does a good job on some pommy Brits and mad Irishmen as well.

I’ve pulled a bit of the audiobook out to illustrate what I mean. It’s some conversation on a bus between two guys who went to high school together–they, and the rest of their high school class–have been invited by one of their former schoolmates to an all-expenses paid reunion party on a resort he’s developing. The “Floating Island Paradise Resort” is actually an oil rig converted to a resort. This has some of the thickest accents. (This example leaves out the highly hilarious mercenaries, and the forcibly retired policeman in his pajamas.)

While I’m at it, I’ve also included a snippet of Jonathan Cecil doing P.G. Wodehouse. I’ve mentioned before how much I approve of that pairing, and it’s really for the same reason. I don’t have enough experience of turn-of-the-century English gentlemen of means to render Bertie’s voice perfectly in my head–yes, I love Wodehouse, and got a lot out of him before ever hearing this, but Cecil doing the performance sounds more natural than the one I had in my head–just like Blythe doing Brookmyre sounds more natural than it did in my head.

I should also note that this is definitely a learning process. I think my internal reading of StrossHalting State was improved by having heard Blyth’s reading of Brookmyre–I already knew how to “internally read” the geek bits, the gamer bits, and the corporate bits, which were all pretty much in my wheel house, but I can also do justice to the Scots dialect and idiom in Stross’ book internally now.

  1. Which only make up a portion of the listening I do. I’m pretty big on The Teaching Company and various podcasts, as well as the occasional lengthy non-fiction work.(back)
  2. Ironically, I first read The Thought Gang on an airplane.(back)

  14 comments for “Something Good: Kenny Blyth reads Christopher Brookmyre

  1. January 21, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    Sorry to just reply about your teaching company sentence, but you may find my user forum helpful where I review all lectures in their newest courses:

    http://teachingcompany.12.forumer.com

    enjoy it,

    Doug van Orsow
    forum admin

  2. January 21, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    I rarely listen to audio books, for much the same reasons you cite above, but I’ve slowly been making my way through The Chronicles of Narnia on Harper Audio. I read the first book, for the first time, a couple of years ago, but I much prefer these CDs. (It helps that the books are read by some phenomenal British talents, like Derek Jacobi, Lynn Redgrave, and Patrick Stewart.)

    I also felt that Lenny Henry brought out a lot of the humor and nuance I thought didn’t quite come across in Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys. The book never really came alive for me on the page, maybe because I was imagining it read in Gaiman’s voice. (Gaiman has said he imagined it told in Henry’s voice as he was writing it, so there you go.)

    I have nothing against audio books; it’s just that, when faced with the option, I usually think, “I’d much rather read this.”

  3. Jo
    March 18, 2009 at 10:39 am

    You’ll be pleased to know that you can now buy Christopher Brookmyre’s A Snowball in Hell read by Kenny Blyth. He’s good it’s true, but David Tennant reading Quite Ugly One Morning is even better!

  4. March 19, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    fairplay Jo.
    He does get paid alot more than me though. Happy listening.

  5. Jo
    March 23, 2009 at 8:20 am

    Ah, now I feel bad. Will teach me to post without considering the consequences! In assuming (probably rightly) that David Tennant wouldn’t be reading anything I wrote, I also assumed that Kenny wouldn’t be reading it either. Shame on me. I AM enjoying Snowball in Hell though, and would like to enjoy the other Brookmyre audio books (without the hinderance of physical formats). So if anyone can prod Audible.co.uk to stock them too, we’ll all be happier!

  6. March 26, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    He!
    Not at all Jo, the power of the internet. I am a huge Brookemyre fan and found him through my work. When you have to read a book 2 or 3 times, mark it (for accents gender etc) then sit in a studio and read it all again, you certainly appreciate a good or great writer. If you can still enjoy his books in those circumstances, and I do, then I suggest that Brookemyre is a great.

    Best

  7. August 29, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    Just a wee heads up regarding the next Brookemyre. Stick a copy on order, it is a belter! Out in the not too distant. “Pandaemonium” saw Chris read from it at the Edinburgh book festival recently and doing the unabridged talking book next month. Enjoy.

  8. September 2, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Excellent! Something to look forward to. As I’m about to post, I will have a lengthy drive coming up in the not-to-distant, so the book will help eat up a chunk of that time with the usual excellent combination of Brookmyre and Blythe!

  9. December 1, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    It is certainly a Brookemyre and gamers dream. I get the impression Chris palys alot of PS and X box. Let me know what you think. It’s deffinately a new direction, but still I think he plays a blinder. KB

  10. December 8, 2009 at 12:44 am

    I quite enjoyed A Snowball In Hell when I got around to it–both Brookmyre and Kenny doing their usual excellent work (with the performance perhaps having to do more work than ever here to avoid the trap of making Darcourt’s nigh-unto-supervillain first person narration too cartoony, and succeeding at that avoidance).

    I wonder how long I’ll have to wait to get my hands on Pandemonium… Amazon.co.uk says ISIS will release the physical media versions on December 1, but they don’t seem to be out yet. And, of course, it won’t show up on this side of the pond for a while after that…

  11. February 19, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Hey guys across the water (or maybe not) just a wee note to say there was a really fantastic and quite rare programme on Scottish Television last night (a rare enough occurrance to make a post) on Chris Brookemyre and his books and inspirations. I am not sure if it is on the STV player ( http://www.stvplayer.com ) but if it’s not, it should be. It was a brilliant insight into his writing and inspirations. Well worth a gander if it can be proccured. Particularly for his chat about crossing over a little from crime/fiction to science fiction in PanDAEMONium. It was a gailic programme but had subtitles (thankfully) Not sure if you have the latest book yet, if so, I cannot wait for the sequel. We all know Adnan’s a comin’ back.

    Enjoy

  12. February 19, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    can you believe I spelled Gaelic wrong. DOH!

  13. February 25, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Hmm, I don’t think that show is up–looking at the schedule for the 18th, I don’t see anything streamable that could be it. Thanks for the heads up, though–I’m sure it’ll show up for download somewhere at some point, as the Internet is apparently like that.

    We have the printed Pandemonium, but Audible isn’t carrying the audio version yet–I’m getting closer every day to just shelling up for ISIS to send me a copy across the ocean.

  14. Adam Boys
    March 20, 2010 at 3:54 am

    Kenny Blyth does a fantastic job of reading or rather performing Pandaemonium. He was so in A Snowball in Hell that I immediately downloaded the next one. I wish that he could re-record the male part of Unsinkable rubber ducks. The female voice is great but the man’s performance is pants. He sounds uncomforable with swear words and the flow of the tale never gets going.

    Brookmyre’s stuff may have comic qualities but they are a great celebration of Scottish scepticsm and they bring alive the language. Blyth’s is far more than narration it is real performance.

  15. November 18, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    That’s very kind. Best regards Brookemyre fans. Sadly not on his books anymore but do enjoy reading them.

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This work by Chris McLaren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada.