Have you ever been in the middle of a story where some dialogue comes up, and the narrator makes everyone sound great until he runs into a female character, and suddenly, there’s this almost shrill, rather absurd imitation of a female voice? Not just me, right?
I tend to listen to audiobooks while taking walks, driving, or resting at home. When I’m listening to a story, I’m engaged, immersed even, as much as I can be without endangering myself or others, of course. So when I’m choosing my next read, and it isn’t nonfiction, I find myself glossing over anything with a male narrator. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I’m just not willing to try any out any more unless I get a sterling recommendation from someone, such as was the case of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s telling of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which is excellent.
Meanwhile, I find that female and lady-type narrators don’t suffer from the same issues. Rather, they deal with it by not trying so hard. There are plenty of male characters in the books narrated by ladies like Susan Duerden, Moira Quirk, and January LaVoy, but they don’t fall into that trap of trying to change their pitch so much based on character gender, lowering their voice comically to imitate the tenor of a man’s voice. They just make a new, distinct voice, and my ears get used to it.
On the one hand, I understand why men do this. He would otherwise be asking us to believe a female character, possibly one described to have a wispy voice or breezy personality would sound like, well, a man? I get it. I really do. And it’s an unfortunate limitation, or at least, I’m calling it one until I see evidence that there’s another way besides having multiple narrators on board (in which case, why wouldn’t male narrators join in to do male voices in a book primarily read by a woman?).
Is there another way?
I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers. I just know that this weird limitation in range that many male narrators have steers me more towards female narrators. So while I’m here, I figure I’ll dole out a few quick recommendations since I mentioned a few narrators earlier.
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (narrated by Susan Duerden) is a hilarious story that starts with the heroine waking up surrounded by dead bodies and no idea who she is. She finds some instructions in her coat pocket, and eventually learns she’s part of this secret agency that specializes in neutralizing supernatural activity. And whoever went after her in her previous life still wants her dead.
Finishing School series by Gail Carriger (narrated by Moira Quirk) is an impressive feat of narration as there’s quite a large cast, since this steampunk series largely takes place in a school. Specifically, a floating finishing school for young ladies that is actually a secret spy organization. There are also vampires and werewolves. It’s fun and exciting and everything you’d want out of a series that covers a year per book and stars badass ladies doing subterfuge.
Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray (narrated by January LaVoy) is quite possibly my new favorite Star Wars book ever. If you wanted a book where Princess Leia (a senator in this story) is the central character in her late-40s (boo-yah for middle-aged protags) and is working with an awesome cast of side characters to uncover corruption in the galactic senate and investigate threats to the New Republic. It takes place just six years before Episode VII: The Force Awakens, so those who have seen the movie can anticipate where the action leads. Star Wars audiobooks in general are rad, with sound effects and background music accompanying the text, and they make for an immersive experience.
Feel free to jump in the comments with your other fiction audiobook recommendations. Who is your favorite narrator?