Saturday, 5 July 2014

Audio Book Un-Review: "Northern Lights" by Philip Pullman

As I have said before, I do love a good audio book, particularly when I am working. The aim of the game is escapism, whilst still keeping approximately 25% of my brain on my work.

I decided to work my way through His Dark Materials in audio form because, like most people my age, I binged my way through the books in high school and have huge amounts of affection and nostalgia for the series. The fact that the audio book is effectively a re-read means that I can afford to only keep one eye open (metaphorically), but could also lead to disappointment in the cold light of day/adulthood.

Do I need to give a synopsis? I am nothing if not current, so surely everyone has read this already? Surely? If not, go and read it for God's sake, it's a modern classic, the new black (where black is The Chronicles of Narnia with a bit of sex thrown in).

Pullman himself narrates the audio book, interspersed with actors filling in the dialogue. The actors do their job nicely, and Pullman is perfect, as authors always are when narrating their own work, but the two combined doesn't do it for me. I find Pullman's warm, emotive voice more evocative than the actors, and find myself wishing he just altered his own voice slightly for each character (not that every author is comfortable/capable of doing this). I would even have preferred actors only, as my brain treats this like a radio play rather than an audio book (like Neverwhere for Radio 4 - very much recommended).

That being said, I did immediately download the other two books of the series, so they were doing something right!

"This book/audio book also provokes an old, well worn rant within me, which I will share with you, whether you like it or not. His Dark Materials is one of those books for children/young adults which, for me, highlights the similarities (utter sameness) between adult and young adult genre is the same right? I mean, EXACTLY the same. How is this different from 'Wool' by Hugh Howey? How is the Mortal Instrument by Cassandra Clare different from The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan? THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE (except the covers). I find some young adult fiction ('Sabriel' by Garth Nix for example) to be more interesting than the vast majority of adult fiction. We are not talking literature here, 'just' genre fiction, so who decides what to market to teens and what to market to adults? These books are all about the narrative, rather than the writing itself (for me at least), and the young adult aimed books are certainly not dumbed down! Bla, rant complete, SORRY FOR CAPS!"
No offence meant here with the genre fiction/young adult tags. I read a shit ton of both.

I digress (typical), there is something beautifully old fashioned about His Dark Materials, and this first book in particular. The story of a ragamuffin adventurer with a higher calling - most peoples favourite childhood book is a version of this - and 'Northern Lights' is a fantastic, classic example, with real hidden depth. I am reminded very much of The Chronicles of Narnia when reading/listening, and not just because of the religious connotations.

Read this book if: you have warm fuzzy feelings about 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe', you like a good old fashioned adventure (with or without ginger beer), you have previously underestimated young adult fiction, you like a good cliff hanger, you are feeling lazy or need a 'pick me up', you really like monkeys but wish you didn't (this will sort that right out for you).

Listen to this audio book if: you are snuggled under a throw and don't want your hands to get cold holding a book, you favour radio plays to audio books, you want something suitable for all ages (it isn't too scary, even the part with the fish!)

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