Mark Haddon on the magic of audiobooks: ‘I haven’t read a book properly until I’ve had it read to me’

Forget the snobs who treat the written word as superior. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime author explains why he’s a huge fan

confession. Until this year I’d never properly listened to the audiobook versions of my novels. I’d dipped in and out, but I’d never immersed myself completely. It’s not that the readers’ voices fail to match the voice in my head. It’s that the voice in my head is not really a voice at all. I think of it as a voice. It sounds like a voice. Then I stand up in public to read a passage I have scanned a hundred times during the writing of the book and realise that I don’t know how to pronounce Y Mynyddoedd Duon or holoprosencephaly (I stumbled over both while reading a section of The Red House at the Hay festival). How can any human actor recreate the flattering self-delusion and selective deafness of the text heard by your inner ear?

This year is the first time I’ve listened to the audio version of one of my books in its entirety, because Tim McInnerny reads The Porpoise so well that it has become the voice in which I now read the novel to myself. Like all really good actors he understands how little acting is needed. His gentle, self-deprecating bass never upstages the text. His voice is the place where the story happens and after a while we are aware of the story and nothing else. Does he know precisely how to pronounce the 14th-century English of the quotations from John Gower or is it just serene self-confidence? I neither know nor care.

Despite my reservations about listening to readings of my own work, I am an avid consumer of audiobooks in general and have little time for those who parade their snobbery about the supposed superiority of the written word. Some of the best reading experiences of my life have been listening experiences: Bleak House, read by Teresa Gallagher and Sean Barrett; Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts, read by Crispin Redman. I stalled halfway through my Penguin Classics edition of Moby-Dick, then listened to Frank Muller read it and was utterly captivated. And frankly I would pay good money to listen to Juliet Stevenson read me the terms and conditions of my mobile phone contract.


Click here to go to The Guardian and continue reading. 

Hear this! The best audiobooks of 2019 – so far (including Max Porter’s LANNY and Oyinkan Braithwaite’s MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER)