I hear voices inside my head. Don’t worry, they are not telling me to do dangerous or illegal things. They are benign and quite useful. I suspect that many folks hear these kinds of voices, too. They are the voices of the narrators of books. When I read a novel narrated by a character in the story, I assign an imaginary voice to him or her and that’s the voice I “hear” as I read. I thought I would be interesting to find out how my imaginary voices compared with the narrators engaged by the publishers of two books that I read recently, so I downloaded the eAudiobook versions. Both books are set in modern day India and are told by natives of that country. The titles are The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga and Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup. For each I had imagined a rich male voice, very expressive, with proper British pronunciation overlaid with a lilting Indian inflection.
For The White Tiger, the narrator’s voice is just perfect. It matched what I imagined–a deep, musical intonation tinged with the irony and humor the author intended. When I investigated who was reading, I was taken aback to discover that the voice emanated from British actor and voice-over artist John Lee, noted for his exceptional talent in doing accents from around the world. Ah, my little bubble of happy listening was nearly burst. Why not have someone actually from India do the reading? Surely there are such people available. An actor faking the accent seemed to have a tinge of false advertising, and served to undermine the cultural themes at the novel’s center. Why did I care so much? I felt a little cheated. Did this non-Indian reader undermine the power of Adiga’s sharp commentary on the sad state of Indian society? Yes, I think so. Despite this, I still loved the reader’s voice and I would still recommend this as an excellent listen for fans of eAudiobooks. Just forget that I told you the reader was really a British guy.
Six Suspects by Swarup, author of the book the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire is based on, also deals with corruption and society’s ills, but there is a classic Agatha Christie-like murder mystery at the heart of its plot. Here the reader is Lyndham Gregory. His posh British accent at first has no hint of native Indian when he speaks in the voice of the character who is the story’s narrator. Since this character is an Indian investigative reporter and amateur sleuth, I was disappointed not to hear a voice that fit. Though I do love a crisp British accent, the voice I heard was a bit too dry, too ho-hum. As the story develops and many more characters are introduced, Gregory’s voice takes on the Indian accents of the various characters. He does a pretty good job here, though some seemed forced. Here, too, I wondered why a native Indian reader could not have been found. Swarup wanted to show us the India of the 21st century, warts and all, and I think a native narrator might have delivered the message more authentically. I did enjoy the audio version once I was done grumbling to myself about this subterfuge, but the voice inside my head was born in India.
So, once again I have learned that it is true: be careful what you wish for. I had hoped to find perfect matches to voices inside my head, and I have to report only partial success. I will try again–it is a fun experiment after all, but in these two instances, I am glad I read the books first.
Here are the original staff reviews for these two fine books: