I haven’t had a lot of experience listening to audiobooks. For the occasional long drive, I have a stash of cassettes (old car) containing short stories and novellas. I like to listen to them because they are, well, short. Generally, so is my attention span.
Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to Elegy for April written by Benjamin Black. Now on the face of it, listening to a nine-and-a-half hour unabridged audiobook seemed a daunting task. But, besides being a widely acclaimed mystery, Elegy for April has two things in its favor. One, the setting for the book is in and around Dublin, Ireland, one of my favorite cities; and two, the person reading the book aloud is the classically-trained actor, Timothy Dalton who, while famous for his Shakespearean roles, is also well know for his portrayal of James Bond in two movies.
So, I made a cup of tea, sat in the recliner and listened to the first CD, my only distraction the leaves swaying gently on the Callery pear tree outside my window. The CD stopped at a chapter break, and I was surprised to see that more than an hour had passed. Still, I was enjoying the story, so I slid the second CD into the player. Only a family commitment forced me to stop listening, but I went back to Elegy for April every chance I had until, at last, I’d heard the chilling conclusion.
Timothy Dalton’s decision to read the narration with a slight near-brogue made listening a pleasure. He inflected the speech pattern and tempo of the major characters so we could hear what they were feeling at that moment. Only the most minor characters had a pronounced Irish lilt. The listener glides along without any of the disruption that can be caused by overly heavy accents, yet still gets an aural sense of the locale.
As to Dublin in the 1950s, Black describes each street, each building so authentically that you can smell the tea and egg sandwiches in the Shelbourne Hotel and feel the spray of the Irish Sea along the coast at Dún Laoghaire (Dun Leary).When a character mentions noticing poet Patrick Kavanagh sitting in Parson’s Bookshop near the Grand Canal, I found myself humming “On Raglan Road” one of Kavanagh’s most famous poems that was set to music decades ago by Luke Kelly.
And then there is the secret of Benjamin Black himself. He doesn’t exist. Black is the pseudonym of multi-award winning literary writer, John Banville, known for his stylistic writing which reflects a rhythm of words and syllables akin to poetry. In an interview given to the Paris Review a few years ago, Banville emphasized that it’s extremely difficult for him to write his literary books. He is often displeased with them—none meet the standards he has set for his writing. Yet, in the final third of the interview he talks with great pleasure about the mysteries he writes as Benjamin Black. Banville says he wanted only to try his hand at mainstream fiction and never intended to write a series of mystery novels featuring Quirke, a Dublin pathologist. However, Elegy for April is the third such book and, fortunately for us, Banville/Black has indicated we can look forward to more books in the series.
While I’m waiting for the next Quirke mystery, I’m going to search out the first two books in the series, Christine Falls and The Silver Swan. But I’m having trouble deciding whether I should read the stories or hear them, now that I’ve found the delight of listening to a well written/well read mystery.