I bought myself the talking book version of Susan Hill’s original novel of The Woman In Black. I downloaded it from Amazon- the first time I have ever bought a download. It was a strange thought, that I had bought a sound. There it was, a cartoon square on my laptop which, if I clicked the mouse over it, would cause an actor to start reading out a particular text. With a bit of jiggery pokery, I managed to copy this onto my MP3 player. With a bit more jiggery pokery, I was able to get my MP3 player to play it, in chapter order. And I told that, with further jiggery pokery, I can burn this sound onto a CD, and then play it from a regular CD player.
In her book Thunder And Lightning, Natalie Goldberg describes a car journey she took whilst listening to a talking book. She said that the book was so good that, when it reached its tragic ending, she had to pull over and get out of the car, because she was weeping over the protagonist. For this reason, she thinks that unabridged talking books are dangerous.
I can see what she means. The narrator (it sounds like Greg Wise) propels you through Susan Hill’s ghost story. He picks up every inflection. You ‘read’ the book, all of it, without having to bother yourself with looking at the words.
I feel a little disappointed with myself for having someone else read the story to me. The reason I bought the talking book was this: I had seen the stage version of The Woman In Black (which was brilliant), and the TV version via Youtube (also excellent), and I saw the Daniel Radcliffe film at the cinema before my wife bought me the DVD (not bad at all, although the other versions were better). But I hadn’t read the original novel, and I felt I ought to.
Something, though, stopped me getting through it. I don’t know what. I find, with books, if I don’t finish them quickly I give up, even if I’m enjoying them. And it wasn’t a fault of Susan Hill’s, whose prose was faultless. It’s just that I’m nearly 50 now, and not all that well read, and there is so much stuff out there. Anna Karenina, Oliver Twist, Ulysses. Plays, poetry, non fiction. And there’s so little time.
I listened to the book over the course of one week, which is better than only reading half a book and then giving it up in a fortnight. Yet there’s that nagging guilt that I haven’t read the printed words myself. I think about all those volumes in the public library- I could have borrowed the text free of charge, and reading that wouldn’t have used any electricity, either.