Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens; Martin Jarvis, narrator

cover, Good Omens audiobookKelley Caspari wrote this review.

Having read Good Omens several years ago, I looked forward to revisiting the story in audio format, determined this time to pay better attention to its sometimes subtle twists and set ups. Terry Pratchett collaborating with a young Neil Gaiman concocted a fantastic tale around a hilariously heretical discussion on the difference between good and evil, and the age old question of nature versus nurture, all the while gently mocking the British, Americans, Christians, heretics, archaeologists, historians, villagers, Hell’s Angels, witch hunters, witches, modern culture hounds, and pretty much anyone else they can shoehorn into the narrative. You’re probably in there, too. I know I am.

Martin Jarvis reads the audio version of Good Omens. I’m going to pick on him a little bit, but despite this I feel he did a marvelous job adding new dimensions to a landscape littered with distinctive personalities.

The first voices you hear are those of Aziraphale and Crowley. It was difficult for me to distinguish one from the other at first but quite quickly they emerged as unique incarnations of these characters. Both being of celestial origin, there is a sort of consistency in the fact that these two should be so similar before their contact with humans, only developing personal quirks and intonations as they pass the centuries on Earth.

Adam’s voice sounds too stuffy and know-it-all to me, not the kick-ass kid with his own gang who happens to have the power to end the world that I envisioned when I read the book. He’s the final word in his gang of remarkable children — and the world for that matter — so an aristocratic accent may be helpful in giving him a semblance of authority, especially as Adam has abysmal grammar, and it’s certainly a very humorous combination, but he is the Anti-Christ, after all, and I don’t think he needs a high falutin accent to prove it.

Jarvis seems to have trouble with women’s voices unless they are older ladies like Madam Tracy. His women almost always come across as a bit camp, which may be appropriate for this novel, considering its devil-may-care attitude. An example of this is his voicing of the uber-sexy War, who sounds like she belongs in a drag version of “Good Omens, the Musical!”

A real sticking point for me, however, was his accent from the American South, perhaps because I grew up there. For instance, Pollution’s accent is patchy. He seems to use a Standard American accent and once in a while throws in an easily recognizable word from any number of southern dialects. Because he doesn’t choose a particular dialect, he doesn’t elicit the all important rhythm correctly, even when he pronounces words in a “southern” manner.

He did a really fine job in several cases. He nailed Shadwell’s voice, every nuance and intonation. The angst imbued in the words of the anonymous typesetter in the “Bugger All This Bible” from Aziraphale’s collection made me burst out laughing so I had to go back to catch what I’d missed. The idea that Death should have an American accent made me giggle as well, and then wonder, ‘Why?’ This resulted in a number of faux conspiracy theories with my friends around the dinner table one night.

Despite my criticism of a few accents, I thoroughly enjoyed Martin Jarvis’s rendition of Good Omens. He met the challenge of a massive number of voices head on, always sounding as though he had a sly grin hidden away in the pit of his stomach.

If you’ve never heard Good Omens, you should. Whether or not you give a damn about theology or metaphysics, I prophesy you’ll find yourself chuckling often — or, like me, barking — as Martin Jarvis and these two well loved masters poke fun at everything most people hold dear and bring you to the brink of Armageddon.

(HarperAudio, 2009)

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Diverse Voices is our catch-all for writers and other staffers who did but a few reviews or other writings for us. They are credited at the beginning of the actual writing if we know who they are which we don't always. It also includes material by writers that first appeared in the Sleeping Hedgehog, our in-house newsletter for staff and readers here. Some material is drawn from Folk Tales, Mostly Folk and Roots & Branches, three other publications we've done.

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