Best audiobooks of 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010; T05

THE IMPERFECTIONISTS

By Tom Rachman

Recorded Books, 9 ¾ hours, 7 CDs, www.recordedbooks.com, buy: $44.95; rent, $17.50; audible.com download, $27.99

It would be hard to come up with a better narrator than Christopher Evan Welch for Tom Rachman's saga of the birth, life and death of a newspaper. By turns bitter, sweet, icily callous and very funny, the novel covers half a century and a large number of characters. Welch distinguishes between the characters mostly by mood and register, but so adeptly that he conveys personality and predicament as well as any thespian.

THE KILLING OF CRAZY HORSE

By Thomas Powers

Tantor, 21 hours, 17 CDs, $54.99, 2 MP3 CDs, $39.99; audible.com download, $38.49

This latest account of the murder of Crazy Horse of the Lakota Sioux in 1877 is a complex, detailed and multilevel tale of greed, bad faith, racism and miscomprehension on both sides. John Pruden reads Thomas Powers's long book in a calm, unhurried voice. His pronunciation of the formidable Indian expressions and names is deft and unstrenuous. Though the voices of many are heard from letters, journals and interviews, Pruden does not embellish them; he maintains the narrating voice, avoiding complications in an already complicated but revelatory account.

LORNA DOONE

By R. D. Blackmore

Unabridged, Naxos, 26 hours, 20 CDs, $115.98; Naxos download, www.naxosaudiobooks.com, $80

First published in 1869, this great tale of well-born brigandage, yeoman valor and maiden peril set in Restoration England's West Country, Devon and Somerset, gives full expression to mid-Victorian longing for a vanished agricultural past. Its audio form releases the language from the page thanks to Jonathan Keeble, an extraordinarily skilled voice actor who takes on the archaic Devon accent as though born to it - which, as a native of the region, he was. The novel's quietly droll passages and paeans to nature are greatly enhanced by his country aplomb. Moreover, the dialect that snags the reader in print ("Whoy, dudn't ee knaw . . . as Jan Vry wur gane avore braxvass") emerges here as fluid speech, its cadence a joy to hear.

THE SIEGE OF KRISHNAPUR

By J. G. Farrell

BBC Cover to Cover, 12 ½ hours, audible.com download, $25.46

Sam Dastor's inspired delivery of the 1973 Booker Prize-winning novel, a brilliant black comedy set during the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, is available as a download only. Dastor, who was born in India, delivers a brisk, uncomplicated Indian accent for the few actual natives in this book. His great triumph, however, lies in his general narration, which expresses the book's terrific irony at the contrast between British propriety and the chaotic mess these people find themselves in. When the voices of individual characters pipe up, they are uniquely their own. Among them are the Magistrate, whose clipped tones most certainly do "not invite debate," and the Padre, whose voice is perfectly balanced between donnishness and clerical sing-song.

TRAVELS IN SIBERIA

By Ian Frazier

Macmillan Audio, 20 ½ hours, 16 CDs, $59.99; audible.com download, $41.99

Ian Frazier caps his travels through Siberia's vastness by narrating his own account of them, another enormous undertaking. The author doesn't have the polish or range of a professional voice actor, but soon we appreciate how this somewhat pedestrian tone suits both the crude reality of Siberia and the deadpan humor that pervades his book. How could anyone doubt that this is the voice of the actual man who, as he admits, had a "chronic fear of being run over while asleep in my tent" or who was annoyed that his tea tasted like the shaving cream someone had mixed in his cup?

Katherine A. Powers regularly reviews audio books for Book World.

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