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Kit

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  • Pigeon Post

  • Swallows and Amazons Series, Book 6
  • By: Arthur Ransome
  • Narrated by: Gareth Armstrong
  • Length: 9 hrs and 7 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 105
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 97
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 97

For anyone who loves sailing and adventure, Arthur Ransome's classic Swallows and Amazons series stands alone. Originally published over a half-century ago, the 12 books are still eagerly read by children and adults alike - by all those captivated by the world of adventure and imagination. Such longevity is not only due to Ransome’s unparalleled gift of storytelling, but also his championing of qualities such as independence and initiative; virtues that appeal to every generation, whether young or old.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Excellent book. Awful narration.

  • By Kit on 16-08-18

Excellent book. Awful narration.

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
2 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 16-08-18

As a lifelong devotee of the Swallows and Amazons series, I have spent many years being frustrated at the lack of decent audiobook versions of these beloved books. When I discovered the complete set narrated by Gabriel Woolf, I was delighted because he fully and completely understood the material, which was evident from his narration style, and his voice was perfect for the job. His voices for each of the characters were also one hundred percent spot-on, with each one having the proper accent and vocal mannerisms, and their lines being delivered in a totally natural and authentic way. He very sensibly didn't attempt to raise the pitch of his voice for female or child characters. Nor did he give the child characters "childish" voices. Everyone spoke normally and naturally - as written. Apart from a few (to my mind rather charming) fluffs and stammers, and the fact that you could occasionally hear the pages turning and Mr Woolf's chair squeaking, these recordings have been for many years my personal benchmark for audiobook perfection. Except for one major niggle: They are abridged!

So, when I discovered that the whole series was being released as unabridged audiobooks, I was very excited and couldn't wait for them to become available. They seemed, on the surface, to be exactly what I wanted. Unabridged. Read by a male narrator (extremely important). And most crucial of all, read by a British actor of a certain age, who would likely imbue the characters with the correct attitudes and speech patterns for the period. (I did not want any of them to sound like chavs!)

I downloaded Pigeon Post first, because, despite being way out of sequence, it would (I hoped) happily replace the Gabriel Woolf recording, which of all the books is the most noticeably abridged. I couldn't afford to get the whole collection all at once, so I opted for the one I considered most "needed".

Nothing could prepare me for how awful Gareth Armstrong's characterisations are! His narration voice is perfectly acceptable, and for the most part he reads the text correctly. But his character voices are woeful. The adults are okay, though they lack the charm and individuality of Woolf's versions. But the most important ones - the children - are appalling!

If you are British, and of a certain age, perhaps you will remember a children's TV show called "Rainbow". It featured a host, Jeffrey, and three "friends", Bungle (a man in a teddy-bear costume), Zippy (a glove puppet with a zip for a mouth), and George (a glove puppet of an effeminate pink hippo).

Gareth Armstrong's voices sound like they were done by Jeffrey and Bungle (doing the male voices) and George (doing the female voices). Deeply, deeply patronising, with the sort of manic fake-enthusiasm favoured by those who habitually "speak down" to children. He attempts to raise the pitch of his voice for all the child characters - because that's apparently how he thinks children sound - but then he raises it even higher for the female characters. Unfortunately, his voice is already pitched-up to near breaking-point due to the exaggerated enthusiasm that he apparently thinks kids use when talking to each other, so there is nowhere else for it to go. The result is that every one of the child characters ends up sounding the same: manic and moronic, apart from Dorothea, who sounds like a sultry (but retarded) seductress!

(He also repeatedly refers to Dorothea as Dorothy, which is intensely annoying).

The voices get worse and more annoying as the book proceeds. At first, Nancy and Peggy are given vaguely Northern accents (which I don't much like, but would have adjusted to), but by the middle of the book they mostly speak with the same voice and accent as everybody else, although in a few places Dick inexplicably becomes Northern. None of the voices are consistent, and it is almost never possible to identify which character is speaking from their voice alone, except for that silky smooth seductress, the ever sultry (yet retarded) Dorothea!

I can't emphasise enough how inappropriate and disappointing Mr Armstrong's performance is. He clearly totally misjudged and misunderstood both the material and the audience. It is patently obvious that he thinks these are "children's books" and therefore need to be read in that "style".

But these are not Thomas the Tank Engine books!

The Swallows and Amazons series features children as its central characters, and is certainly child-friendly, and has been read and loved by children for generations. But they are NOT children's books. They are books for people of all ages, written in a sensible, mature vernacular that NEVER speaks down to the reader, and assumes a certain level of knowledge, intelligence, and maturity that - particularly nowadays - is decidedly grown-up. I strongly suspect that the audience for these books in the 21st century consists almost entirely of people aged 40+, whose childhood's occurred in the days before computer games, CGI, social networking, and the internet.

These are "classic" stories, most likely to be enjoyed by "classic" people. And the narration ought to reflect that fact. Gabriel Woolf's near-perfect performance does. Gareth Armstrong does the exact opposite.

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