“ Genre: Fiction / Author: Georgette Heyer / Audio Book / Narrator: Richard Armitage „
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the late Georgette Heyer especially of her Regency novels which not only tell well plotted and very romantic stories but are also historically accurate enough to satisfy any historian. I've read all of Ms Heyer's Regency novels and lately have discovered that some of these have been recorded as audio books and are available for loan from my local library. These recordings are made by Naxos Audio Books and the Heyer novels are narrated by Richard Armitage. For the unititiated, Richard Armitage is the British TV and film actor known best for his portrayals of John Thornton in the BBC's North & South, Guy of Gisborne in the TV series of Robin Hood and as the double agent Lucas North in Spooks and most recently as Thorin Oakenshield in the Hobbit.
Venetia Lanyon has spent all her life in a secluded village in Yorkshire where she lives comfortably with her younger brother Aubrey. Following her father's recent death, she finds herself at the age of twenty-five almost on the shelf and her future prospects seem to be either marriage to the respectable but dull Edward Yardley or continue a life of spinsterhood. On the day she encounters the notorious rake, Lord Damerel everything changes and Venetia discovers in this most unsuitable of men, her soul mate. Despite dire warnings from the local matrons that her reputation is at stake, Venetia continues to meet Damerel but there are secrets lurking in both their pasts which may prove a hindrance to any future happiness.
It's always difficult when reviewing an audio book to know whether to concentrate on the actual novel or the recording but I'll try to combine the two. I've listened to a couple of other Heyer novels, both narrated by Richard Armitage, and I enjoyed them immensely. He has a deep, rich voice which lends itself to playing romantic heroes but he's also very good at giving distinctive voices to other characters, even female ones.
A particular difficulty with listening to an audio book version of a well loved novel, or indeed seeing a film version of a book, is that one comes to it with certain preconceived ideas about the characters. I've read this book several times and never once did I think of Venetia as speaking with a slight northern accent. As she's a member of the upper classes, I'd always heard her voice in my head as being standard English. In this recording Richard Armitage, who himself comes from north of Watford, gives Venetia and her brother a hint of a Yorkshire accent which to begin with completely threw me. When I thought about it, however, it seemed far more likely that someone who had spent their entire life in a remote part of Yorkshire 'never having ventured further than Scarborough', however gently bred they may be, would have picked up at least a slight accent and intonation of the area.
Most of Georgette Heyer's romances don't have any physical contact between the hero and heroine until the very end and unusually in 'Venetia', there's a kiss on the first meeting, although this is due to a case of mistaken identity. Venetia has managed to get herself stuck in the middle of some brambles and when Lord Damerel discovers her, after a suitably appropriate quote 'Oh how full of briars is this working-day world' he steals a kiss thinking she's a village girl who is trespassing on his land. Venetia soon puts him wise as to her true position in the world and thus begins their relationship which very soon becomes more serious than either ever intended.
Though not quite a May-December relationship, there is a fifteen year age gap between Damerel and Venetia and an even bigger gap in their experience of the world. Venetia has always lived a secluded life and her father hadn't even allowed her a trip to London to make her debut, whereas Damerel has been burning the candle at both ends since his teenage years and there isn't much he doesn't know about debauchery. There's another side to him, however, a quieter more cultured one which helps advance his friendship with both Venetia and her disabled brother Aubrey who is currently studying for a place at Cambridge.
There is much to like about the rather naive though redoubtable Venetia and the worldly Damerel and their romance comes so unexpectedly to them both that one can't help but wish they get their happy ending. Well this is a romance and the outcome is almost guaranteed but the twists and turns of the plot as devised by Georgette Heyer mean that a happy outcome is always in some doubt.
There are some great secondary characters, as there always are in Georgette Heyer novels, and Richard Armitage does credit to them all from the young and bookish Aubrey to the Regency dowager dragon, Lady Denny and each voice is unique to that character. As he has a lovely speaking voice, he reserves his natural tones for the part of Damerel but all the other parts sound completely different from each other, even the female parts. It must be difficult for a male narrator to produce even one voice which comes across as female but with this recording he creates several. Narrating audio books must be a great way for any actor to hone their skills.
I love this novel but I've always had a bit of an issue with the fact that the main characters are incredibly fond of slipping a lot of literary quotations, especially Shakespeare, into their conversations with each other and when they're not quoting back and forth, they're thinking in quotes. Although I accept that it's this love of literature which first sparks their friendship, it really gets a bit much in the end and they sound as though they (or maybe Ms Heyer) are just showing off their literary knowledge for the sake of it. I will say that quite a few of the quotes have been omitted from this abridged version and personally, I think the story is all the better for it.
I can't praise Naxos Audio Books recordings highly enough. They are all of excellent quality and this one is no exception. Richard Armitage does a sterling job of recreating the story to the satisfaction of this Heyer fan and though this is an abridged version, it's impossible to tell what has been omitted.
I borrowed my copy of this recording for free but it's available online for around £5. This is a 4 CD recording with a total running time of just under 5 hours.