I love audiobooks, and listen to them regularly. In my experience, most audiobooks have one narrator who reads the entire book. However, it’s also common to have two narrators, particularly if there are two main point of view (POV) characters. Often a male voice artist will read the male character, and a female artist the female character. As long as the narrators are good, I enjoy both of these arrangements.
However, I’ve occasionally come across audiobooks that have four or more narrators, one for each POV (I’m sure it helps that I love fantasy, a genre well known for having many POV characters). It sounds great, right? Each character gets their own unique sound and you get to listen to a variety of voices. Unfortunately, I’m rarely as impressed by multiple narrators as I am by one or two. Here’s why:
There’s Always One That Feels Out of Place
The audiobook of Six of Crows has seven narrators. I thought most of them were stellar, and one is even a favourite of mine (Elizabeth Evans, who also voices Throne of Glass), but there was one who irritated me. He slowly over-enunciated everything with little care for the actual content, saying things in a tone that often felt completely wrong for the context. Maybe if he’d been the sole narrator I’d not have noticed as much, but in comparison to the other performances it stuck out like a sore thumb. Similarly, in Hyperion (five different narrators), one of the narrators had a very different sound and style of reading to the others. I wouldn’t have called it bad, and it might have worked alone, but it just didn’t fit for me with the tone I’d become used to.
The more narrators you have, the more likely it is you’re going to have one that doesn’t fit or isn’t quite as good as the others. Personally, that often pulls me out of the story, and makes me focus in on this ‘weak link’ rather than on the stronger performances.
Too Many Voices for the One Character
Another major problem with multiple narrators is dialogue. For example, if Mary and John are talking to each other, but we’re in Mary’s head, the narrator who voices Mary is going to have to say John’s lines too. Similarly, when we’re in John’s head, his narrator is going to have to say Mary’s lines. In a two-narrator scenario this is not so jarring – we get used to hearing each speaking voice in two different ways.
When you have six narrators voicing six characters who are talking to each other all the time (as in Six of Crows), you hear each character’s speaking voice six different ways. Other than being occasionally confusing, this can also become irritating. If I like one narrator’s interpretation of a voice better than another’s, whenever the latter reads it I think: “that’s not how he sounds! You’re doing the voice wrong!”
While I generally really liked the four narrators for the audiobooks Linger and Forever, these also occasionally suffered from this dialogue problem (though not as much as Six of Crows, because there were only four, and the characters talked to each other less).
Pronunciation of Names and Words
There’s also the simple fact that when doing a large production with multiple different narrators, the voice actors aren’t always going to have the time to agree on how every invented word, place name or character name is pronounced.
It might sound nit-picky, but if you’ve gotten very used to a city or place name being said a particular way, and a new narrator pops up and starts saying it another way, it’s irritating. It’s like hearing someone repeatedly mispronounce the name of the town you live in, in spite of your repeated attempts to correct them. It jars every time.
It might look impressive to get a whole cast of actors in to narrate a book, and give each character a unique voice, but I would much rather listen to one narrator who puts on multiple voices and remains consistent with them, than five narrators trying to voice five different characters and giving me an inconsistent tone, sound, and pronunciation.
I don’t hate audiobooks with multiple narrators (in fact, I loved the four narrators in The Help – each performance was brilliant and successfully brought out the character’s unique perspective), but I think I’m more likely to find them disappointing and frustrating, especially when there are more than four voices, and wish they had just found one or two really great narrators to do the whole thing.
But those are just my thoughts. Have you listened to any audiobooks with multiple narrators? What did you think of them? Do you prefer one narrator or many narrators?