Lead Celebrity Performances
By Cameron Phillips, Nuria Berbel Torres and Sarunicka Satkuruparan
This issue, we will be discussing our picks for our favourite audiobooks with a celebrity lead performance. There is no doubt that appreciation should be given to all voice actors no matter their perceived station in the ladder of performing arts, but audiobook narration is a very unique medium, which even the most famous of celebrities can struggle at. Here are our picks for our favourite audiobooks with a lead celebrity performance.
Cameron’s Pick: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Narrated by Will Wheaton
Ready Player One is not a ground-breaking work of sci-fi, or fiction in general. I actually saw the film before I read the book, being unaware the book came first. Its characters are fairly linear and straightforward, its plot and themes are universal in the world of storytelling to a certain extent, and I was hugely disappointed to find out that many questions that the story and framework could make one ponder about, such as the nature of reality and escapism, or mass consumerism, were not addressed. However, what it does have is an immense respect and inherent love for what I am going to call its “secondary sources.” As you can tell by the title, Ready Player One is Cline’s ode to those who turn to gaming (in various forms) as their way of healthy detachment and escapism. If you are inclined to that form of entertainment, then you’ll love the many references and Easter eggs to many of your favourite gaming series, board games, the small and big screens. It’s not a complex book, but it really does not need to be. In addition to this, Wheaton’s narration is just as passionate as the many references the book makes, and this is essential to the enjoyment of the plot. It’s a fantastic book, and for anyone who loves the above-mentioned things, I’d highly recommend it!
Sarunicka’s Pick: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal
The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of 20th century literature. Set in the Jazz Age, it encapsulates a uniquely American experience, showcasing the energy and decadence of the “Lost Generation.” This story centres around Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire, and his pursuit of his former lover Daisy Buchanan, a wealthy young woman whom he lost in the war during his youth.
Oscar-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal takes on the role of narrating Nick Carraway – the narrator of the book who is a Midwesterner turned New York bond salesman that becomes the neighbour to Gatsby and gains a first-hand view of Gatsby’s lavish West Egg parties, and of his undying love for the Daisy. Nick Carraway is the confidant between the main characters and, as a result, requires a narrator who is able to embody a mild wallflower character whilst being able to subtly capture the different characters.
Gyllenhaal does a good job to distance from the charming actor and instead take on a mellow tone to deliver the voice of Nick. His reserved tone is ideal to highlight the mood and poetic writing the novel exudes. He appears to grasp Fitzgerald's words and social commentary perfectly, demonstrated in the way he accentuates the plot nuances and subtleties of the characters. Ultimately, I chose this listen due to how well Gyllenhaal compliments the story to be told. Narrated with refinement and poise, Gyllenhaal achieves what you hope for any great narrator: the ability to capture the essence of a story and, in doing so, elevate the experience of listening to it.
Nuria’s pick: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Narrated by Nicole Kidman
My pick is this amazing classic analysing domestic family life that centres on the Ramsay family’s visit to the Isle of Skye in the early 1900s. Split into three parts over the course of ten years, the story follows Mr Ramsay, Mrs Ramsay and their children at their holiday home in the Isle of Skye. This novel is one of my favourites because the plot is mainly driven by seemingly trivial dialogue between the Ramsay family which transforms the plot into a philosophical journey to find meaning, as well as bringing focus to man’s battle with the tangible world. The multiple perspectives makes the tone and mood shift frequently and, as aforementioned, being driven by dialogue means the novel focuses more on introspection than action.
This narration by Nicole Kidman has become one of my favourites because of her understanding of the book. She has already won an Oscar for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf herself in Stephen Daldry’s film The Hours. Combined with this amazing narration is proof that Kidman really understands Woolf’s skilful prose and intentions behind her writing, which stand out by her unique manner of presenting the inner struggles of her characters. If you’re into the classics, I could not recommend this narration more!