What Makes a Good Narrator? – Audiobook Week Discussion

I hope you are enjoying as much as I do this super Audiobook Week!

Here is today’s question:

Who are your favorite narrators and why?
What do you look for in a narrator?
Have a preference between male or female narrators?

Alternate suggestion: Narration preferences – single narrator, multiple narrators, full cast, etc.

I actually already mentioned on Tuesday some of my favorite narrators:

Orlagh Cassidy is definitely my favorite female narrator. I discovered her in The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake. I found her so good that I listened to Before I Go To Sleep because she was the narrator! Otherwise, not even sure I would have bothered approaching this book. And this made me discover a great book! Incidentally, she got the 2011 Prize for Best Voice in Mystery And Suspense.

Orlagh Cassidy is an actress. In her narrations, she really has the skill to adapt her voice and tone of voice to different situations and moods. In Before I Go To Sleep, you could really feel Christine’s confusion not only thanks to the author’s words, but a lot thanks to Cassidy’s narration.

I have several favorite male narrators.

My latest discovery is Simon Vance, that I heard for the first time in Bring Up The Bodies. I enjoyed how he managed to express Cromwell’s cold detachment in his affairs with the Kingdom, in sending his enemies to the Tower, in always calculating to get his own advantage in anything.

Let me add another narrator I really enjoyed very much last year:

I discovered John Lee in Fall of Giants, by Ken Follett. When I started to listen to Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1), by S. J. Parris, I was thrilled to recognize right away John Lee’s voice. He is excellent for historical fiction and mystery. He varies his pace with the story, and when the suspense grows, you feel like running with him to know faster what’s going to happen next. He is as excellent in Prophecy (Giordano Bruno #2).

What do you look for in a narrator?

  1. The skill to make the book lively, by diversity of tone of voice, of pace, adjusting to the situations in the book. If the tone of voice is flat, unvaried, it creates boredom for me. Right now, I am listening to Stephen Hoye in The Garden of Beasts, and I find it a bit too even. In fact, I regret having chosen the audio format for this book. And it is not because it is a non-fiction work. Simon Winchester did a fantastic job reading his own book  Atlantic.
  2. To introduce healthy diversity as well through different foreign accents, if there are characters from different countries.
  3. To pronounce properly foreign words if there are such. For instance, I almost gave up The Night Circus. Why? Here is an excerpt of my review on the topic:
    “And right from the beginning he [Jim Dale] really got on my nerves, by pronouncing “Le cirque des rêves” inadequately. Whether you are a very famous narrator or not I don’t care, you have to do a bit of research if you have words in another language, if you work as a professional and are paid for what you do. The expression comes many times in French at least at the beginning of the book, and each time, he pronounces “cirque” with the i as in “bird”. Unfortunately, this way of pronouncing the ‘i’ is not French, so the word “cirque” should be pronounced with the “i” you use for instance in the first letter of the word “idiot”. If the author deliberately used the phrase “Le cirque des rêves”, it should then be pronounced as the French do, please.”
  4. To have a voice adapted to the characters. To go back to Jim Dale, I did not think his voice fit at all The Night Circus, in which the main characters are young people. His voice sounded much too old.
  5. In other words, a reliable voice that makes me want to keep listening.

Have a preference between male or female narrators?
Not at all. If the narrator fits into the 5 points above mentioned, it will work for me.

Interestingly enough, I am surprised sometimes when I listen to an audiobook narrated by a man to discover that the writer was actually a woman. For instance, I had no idea really who S. J. Parris was when I listened to Heresy, narrated by John Lee. And this S.J. is a woman.
Orlagh Cassidy narrates before I Go To Sleep, written by S. J. Watson, and that S. J. is a man!

But in both cases, the narrator is of the same gender as the main character. I think actually that would be an important criterion for me.

Narration preferences – single narrator, multiple narrators, full cast, etc.
If it helps to understand better the story to have multiple narrators, I appreciate it. The best most recent example for me is The Orphan Master’s Son, narrated by no less than four narrators. Each narrator presented a different perspective of the story; with only one narrator, it might have been more difficult to follow.

I think I only have one experience of a full cast, but that was for a play by Chekhov, so it really needed a full cast.

But it is also fun to witness the skills of a single narrator switching quickly between different characters, attributing a special tone and accent to each. This is exactly what Simon Vance does in Bring Up The Bodies in a prestigious way. How does he do it? How does he remember so quickly how he chose to give that tone to that character, for over 14 hours?

I would like to add another point:

Narrators for sequel:
I’m sure happy I discovered Simon Vance through Bring Up The Bodies, but as I explained in my review, I was first disappointed, because Simon Slater was Wolf Hall’s narrator, plus he was really good at it, according to my standards. When I listen to a book, I mentally associate a character to the voice of the narrator, so  then it’s like meeting an old friend who had a dramatic surgery on his/her vocal cords, and you can’t even recognize his/her former voice.
So really I much more appreciate when I can have the same narrator for all the books of a series. I do hope next installment of Giordano Bruno will still be read by John Lee.


And you can find other bloggers’ opinions
by clicking on the logo for this week


19 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Narrator? – Audiobook Week Discussion

  1. I read The Postmistress when it first came out, but have been thinking about rereading it. Maybe I’ll try the audio of it.

    I have Bring Up the Bodies on my tbr list, but need to read Wolf Hall first. Maybe when I get to Bring Up the Bodies, I’ll try the audio.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog today.
    Kristin @ Always With a Book


    • Yes, you should give it a try at the Postmistress. I would be curious to hear from you after, as you have already read it, it would be interesting to compare both experiences.
      You can also try the Wolf Hall audio with Simon Slater. He is excellent to. I liked the voice he gave to Ann Boleyn actually. if you do not mind having a different narrator for the sequel, though


  2. I think Simon Vance is amazing, too. Seems like every audiobook listener agrees on that point! I’ve never listened to Orlagh Cassidy, but The Postmistress is near the top of my audio wish list. I’ve been trying to get my book club to choose it for months.


  3. Your last point is really an interesting one – having the same person narrating a series (assuming they did a good job). I haven’t listened to any audiobook series yet – but I think if the voice of anyone character changes from book to book, that would throw me off.


  4. Pingback: Audiobook Week recap « Words And Peace

  5. my favorite audiobook narrator by far is Davina Porter who narrates the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Susan Erickson and Simon Vance are close seconds.

    I look for a narrator that can make each character unique and who regardless of if they are male or female, can make the opposite sex sound decent and not just an aside – for example, I’m listening to Laurel Merlington narrator Weekend Warriors (Fern Michaels) right now – her female voices are great…her male ones, ugh…all I can say is that i’m glad there aren’t that many guys in the book for her to distinguish between


    • I’ll second the recommendation for Davina Porter. The “Outlander” novels are gripping and so well-written in and of themselves, and I’ve read each of them several times. I tried the “Outlander” audiobook because of recommendations from members of a book discussion group, and OH were they right! Davina Porter is the best narrator I’ve heard so far, though I’ve just got into audiobooks in the past year or so.


What do you think? Share your thoughts, and I will answer you. I will also visit your own blog

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.