The Narrating Brilliance of Simon Prebble | RA Crossroads

As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book‚without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to RA Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge, and whole-collection readers’ advisory service goes where it may. In this column, the brilliance of narrator Simon Prebble leads me down a winding path.


Clarke, Susanna. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. narrated by Simon Prebble. 26 CDs. retail ed. unabridged. 32 hrs. Macmillan Audio. 2004. ISBN 9781593977412. $59.95; digital download. F
Prebble offers a master-class on narration in his gorgeously rich rendition of Clarke’s modern classic. The historical fantasy revolves around two English magicians (at first rivals) who ultimately join forces during Napoleon’s reign. The story takes place among England’s upper class, where the land of Faerie, and English magic (the history of the latter is provided by faux-scholarly footnotes) once thrived. Prebble reads with a sharp and confident resonance that is simultaneously warm and restful to the ear. This works in the listener’s favor, as Clarke’s story is an abundantly full one. Prebble’s pacing builds and then delightfully captures the listener with compulsive delight. Prebble’s superb acting talent, melodious British accent, and overall sense of the story honors Clarke’s writing with a masterful reading, allowing each sentence its own space. As a result, the audiobook version of the novel blooms under his attention.

For patrons who enjoy Prebble’s narration of Clarke’s novel, there’s more…



Novik, Naomi. His Majesty’s Dragon. narrated by Simon Vance. 9CDs. library ed. unabridged. 10 hrs. Books on Tape. (Temeraire. Bk. 1.) 2007. ISBN 9781415940143. $110; digital download. F
Vance (Booklist’s “The Voice of Choice”) and Novik make a great listening team; their production will appeal to those who enjoy Prebble’s reading style and Clarke’s storytelling. Like Prebble, Vance is an assured and confident narrator whose rich and focused intonation creates an immersive listening experience. He embodies Novik’s story in which Captain Laurence and the Chinese dragon Temeraire serve as members of the British Aerial Corps during the Napoleonic Wars. Clarke fans should particularly enjoy the details in Novik’s world which blends alternative history and fantasy. [See LJ 4/15/06.]

Gaiman, Neil. Neverwhere. narrated by Neil Gaiman. 10 CDs. retail ed. unabridged. n/a hrs. HarperAudio. 2007. ISBN 9780061373879. $39.95; digital download. F
Listening to Gaiman narrate his own work is both a luxury and a pleasure. Reminiscent of Prebble, Gaiman’s voice is deeply warm and harmoniously accented—one could listen for hours without wear. Here he offers listeners a complex performance that features distinct characters with perfect inflection and shifts in tempo. As the author follows his protagonist Richard Mayhew away from the everyday world of London into its fantastical underground, his rhythm draws listeners deeper into the story. Both Prebble and Gaiman are naturals when it comes to recreating vivid experiences from the novel. Clarke fans should enjoy the mythic underlay of Gaiman’s alternative cities, his attention to detail and mastery of language.

Morgenstern, Erin. The Night Circus. narrated by Jim Dale. 11 CDs. library ed. unabridged. 13½ hrs. Books on Tape. 2011. ISBN 9780307938923. $45; digital download. LITERARY FIC
Another author/narrator pair that resonates with Prebble and Clarke is Dale and Morgenstern. Dale (“Harry Potter” series) is a master at recreating characters sonically—his skills are further exhibited here in Morgenstern’s debut novel of dueling magicians, their untimely love, and the creation of the Le Cirque des Rêves. Dale engages listeners with his warm and clear voice, distinct accents, and perfect pacing. He shares Prebble’s ability to immerse the reader in the novel’s dreaminess—inside the black and white tents is a battle of imaginations—the reader will marvel at its wonders. Morgenstern pairs nicely with Clarke as the two share similar descriptive styles detailing the lyric, dark, and wondrous. [See LJ 11/15/11.]


Nesbø, Joe. The Leopard. narrated by Robin Sachs. 17 CDs. library ed. unabridged. 21 hrs. Books on Tape. 2011. ISBN 9780307917621. $45. 17 CDs. retail ed.; digital download. F
Sachs (Audiofiles’s 2011 Best Voice in Mystery and Suspense: Among the Missing; The Troubled Man) proves himself a first-rate narrator who is comparable to Prebble in depth and warmth. His tone at once alters the mood of a story and treats listeners to emotionally laden or icy-cool experiences. In this eighth Harry Hole novel, Sachs demonstrates all of these attributes to a grand extent. He inhabits diverse characters and infuses the aural experience with terror, world-weariness, and nearly unbearable tension, and he perfectly matches the driving pace Nesbø establishes. [See LJ 3/15/12.]

Harris, Robert. Imperium: A Novel of Rome. narrated by Simon Jones. 12 CDs. library ed. unabridged. 13½ hrs. Recorded Bks. 2006. ISBN 978142813560. $123.75; 12 CDs. retail ed.; digital download. F
Jones (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) narrates Harris’s (Pompeii; Enigma) story of Marcus Cicero’s rise to power in the Roman senate as told by his confidential secretary and slave, Tiro. With a smooth, controlled, and assured tone, Jones drives home the intent behind the disdain one Senator has for another. His light accent skillfully delivers each line at an effective pace guiding listeners through the politics and intrigues of the Roman senate; he makes the listening experience as vivid as if one were listening to C-SPAN today.

Eliot, George. Middlemarch. narrated by Kate Reading. 26 CDs. library ed. unabridged. 32 hrs. Tantor Audio. 2008. ISBN 9781400108633. $54.99; 4 MP3-CDs. library ed.; digital download. pdf ebook included. F
Reading’s (Bellwether; The Gathering Storm) pleasurable expression is as easy on the ear as Prebble’s warm resonance. Her clipped British accent has the ability to make even the longest of novels sheer aural pleasure. Like Prebble’s, Reading’s voice is assured and controlled as she narrates Eliot’s profound novel about Provincial life in England during the period 1830-32. Reading creates the book’s central characters from shifting her inflection, tempo, and tone. While her narration is clearly annunciated, she is also highly expressive and brings out Eliot’s delightful and suitably restrained sensibility which she also shares with Prebble: both are expressive readers who pay close attention to the tonal qualities of the works they read.


Lansing, Alfred. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. narrated by Simon Prebble. 9 CDs. library ed. unabridged. 10½ hrs. Blackstone Audio. 2007. ISBN 9781433206290. $81; 1 MP3-CD. library ed.; Playaway digital; digital download. NF
For audiobook fans seeking a more varied experience with Prebble’s narration, suggest Lansing’s straightforward and moving history of Shackleton’s fateful expedition. Here Prebble captures the appropriate sense of foreboding with a laden tone that brings to life the remarkable endurance of Shackleton and his crew. Prebble’s precision and deliberate pacing heightens at the moments of tension, increasing his speed. Listeners will feel the impact of this discomforting experience and will gain a glimpse of what Shackleton and his crews suffered.

Laurens, Stephanie. Devil’s Bride. narrated by Simon Prebble. 13 CDs. library ed. unabridged. 15½ hrs. Recorded Bks. (Cynster. Bk. 1.) 2008. ISBN 9781436108249. $72.75; Playaway digital; digital download. F
Fans of historical romance will delight in Laurens’s “Cynster” series narrated by the earnest Prebble who tells the story of Devil Cynster, the Duke of St. Ives, his courtship, and then marriage to Honoria Wetherby. Prebble’s pacing expertly navigates the novel’s various contretemps and presents the many quick exchanges of dialog as Devil and Honoria battle each other to a balance of wills.

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. narrated by Simon Prebble. 12CDs. library ed. unabridged. 14 hrs. Blackstone Audio. 2011. ISBN 9781455108671. $118; 1 MP3-CD. library ed.; Playaway digital; digital download. F
While there are many readers of Dickens’s work, fans of Prebble can rest assured that he too, can deliver Dickens with fitting verve. His reading of the story of Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay expands as he mixes meaningful pauses, rushed action, and weighted inflections to make clear the costs of the French Revolution. He fully characterizes Dickens’s large cast by infusing the various character’s voices with quirks, shaky quivers, whispery sounds, and varying inflections and rhythms. He also captures the emotional weight of every scene with expert pacing, drawing on the heartbreaking tone of the novel with strong emotion. An affecting performer, Prebble brings this classic novel to new life in such a way as to make true fans out of those once reluctant to try Dickens and to thrill those who have long recognized his delights.

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at