Audiobook Review: Brideshead Revisited Read by Jeremy Irons

Don’t be misled by the cover design. This audiobook is not related to the 2008 movie adaptation. Rather, it’s an unabridged recording of Evelyn Waugh’s novel, engagingly read by Jeremy Irons, who plays the narrator Charles Ryder in the 1981 award-winning British TV series.

Jeremy Irons exemplifies what an ideal audio performance should be like. We look for the visuals in a movie; we are drawn to the voice in an audiobook.

For one who has had his share of youthful desires, tasted love and loss, and known the ambivalent effect family and religion can bring, now twenty years after, Charles Ryder is resigned to a numb and dreamless existence. Irons delivers such a tone perfectly… his deep, quiet and sombre voice an apt reflection of Ryder’s sentiments.

His voice dramatizes the various characters with clarity. As a listener, I can easily tell who’s talking, as simple as that. From the senior Lord Marchmain to 12 year-old Cordelia, from the stuttering Anthony Blanche to the constantly drunk Sebastian Flyte, Irons’ portrayal is natural and apt. Characterization is consistent in their manner of speech, quirks and eccentricities. Further, he has also effectively conveyed the subtext, the undercurrents in the dialogues, for example, the sardonic remarks Edward Ryder often hurls at his son.

On top of all these, Irons has presented Waugh’s beautiful language and descriptions with poetic eloquence. His articulation stops me time and again to rewind so I can listen and savor the language once more.

Here is the excerpt that seized me from the start and sent me to find the passage in the book to recap every word. This is in the Prologue when Charles unknowingly arrives Brideshead in his army duty twenty years later and asks his subordinate where they are. This is the moment when he is told the name of the place:

He told me and, on the instant, it was as though someone had switched off the wireless, and a voice that had been bawling in my ears, incessantly, fatuously, for days beyond number, had been suddenly cut short; an immense silence followed, empty at first, but gradually, as my outraged sense regained authority, full of a multitude of sweet and natural and long forgotten sounds: for he had spoken a name that was so familiar to me, a conjuror’s name of such ancient power, that, at its mere sound, the phantoms of those haunted late years began to take flight.

I know it’s a bit long, but I must include it here, for this is the passage that has drawn me to the written word, all because of the voice reading it. Can this be the measure of a good audiobook?

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Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh read by Jeremy Irons, BBC Audiobooks America, 10 CD’s, 11 hrs 21 min, Unabridged. July 22, 2008.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

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Thanks to Devourer of Books for hosting Audioweek 2012.

Other related posts on Ripple Effects:

The Downton Ripples

Dances With Words

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Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

24 thoughts on “Audiobook Review: Brideshead Revisited Read by Jeremy Irons”

    1. I think it’s essential that a narrator brings out the characters naturally, not like some trying to use higher pitch for women voices. I don’t know how Irons did it, but I can get it right away without feeling his portrayal contrived or forced.

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  1. That excerpt shows the beautiful and evocative writing of Evelyn Waugh. It is also nice to read something that resonates within you – after reading a sentence, you pause and think, memories flying back. As he says the mere sound of a name conjures images, etc. The name of the French islands St Pierre et Miquelon does that to me. I can see myself pouring over my little stamps in our Paris apartment, dreaming of this far away French islands in North America and now I can see me finally getting there decades later so totally happy to be there. I described this is my first post on the islands there http://avagabonde.blogspot.com/2009/08/recollection-little-stamps-and-dream-of.html. But as I said before English being the 3rd language I learnt, I hesitate to listen to audiobooks.

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    1. Vagabonde,

      Even though English is your third language, your proficiency is like it’s your first. I’m sure you’ll appreciate this recording. Irons’ narration is a meditative oratory. This is an exquisite performance.

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  2. I adored Jeremy Irons’ depiction in the 1981 Brideshead Revisited (and loathed the theatrical remake) so this one sounds wonderful! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I totally agree with you. The TV series is much superior. The 2008 movie adaptation, well, I think it’s a waste. Yes, do try to find this audiobook. I’m sure it’ll bring back fond memories for you as Irons revives all the characters in the series.

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  3. One of my first audiobooks ever and one of the reasons why I’m hooked now. He does a fabulous job. I wasn’t too much into the book itself, but his voice was an added value. Have you heard him read Lolita?

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    1. Alex,

      No I haven’t, and now I’ll look for it. Isn’t his voice amazing!? And his interpretation of the characters, just perfect. Thanks for stopping by.

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    1. Devourer of Books,

      I’m sure you’ll just love his reading. It has sent me to look up passages of Waugh’s book, but I haven’t read through the whole thing. It’s now on high my TBR. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them both.

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  4. What a splendid piece of writing to quote! Brideshead is on my “read this summer” list (especially after “Mad World” and “Madresfield”) but now I’m wondering if I should listen instead!

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    1. Jeanie,

      Do you remember BR is one of the Downton ripples for me? Actually the British TV series is excellent too. But don’t bother with the 2008 movie. If it’s for the whole summer, why not do all three. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them all.

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  5. It is absolutely the measure of a good audiobook, and this is a stunning review! I read Brideshead Revisited 4 or 5 years ago, but you can be sure my next reread will be a listen… and definitely this edition. I could not find it at audible.com, but thankfully there is a copy available in my library system.

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    1. JoAnn,

      Thanks. And since you’ve read the book before, why not try listening to this superb recording this time around. And isn’t it great you’ve found it in your library system. Do let me know what you think after you’ve finished. 😉

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    1. Diane,

      Yes, the library is still my major source of books/movies/audio. Do check it out. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. And if you can find the 1981 TV series too…

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  6. I love Brideshead the book and mini-series. Couldn’t get through the new film version. I had no idea Jeremy Irons was reading the audio book. I’d love to get my hands on a copy.

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    1. Mrs. B.

      You’re right about the 2008 film adaptation. Probably the worst performance I’ve seen of Emma Thompson… but, maybe should blame it on the screenplay / director? The audiobook, best I’ve heard so far.

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  7. Despite my demurrral when it comes to audio books generally, I have to say your points about the narrator are spot on. Being able to distinguish among characters without affecting a “false” voice is a real gift, and a sign of a professional who’s nurtured that gift. If I ever decide to go the audiobook route (I’m imagining nursing a broken leg, or some such) this would be a first choice because of your review.

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    1. Linda,

      I’ve made a recommendation for you in reply to your comment on my last post. Yes, I think it’s perfect for you. And, don’t wait till you break your leg… it may never happen and then you’ll miss the chance of a soothing relaxation. If it gets too hot to work in the summer, this audiobook, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead read by Tim Jerome could be a nice break. (no pun intended.) 😉

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