Immensely enjoying listening to Simon Vance reading Barnaby Rudge (Blackstone Audio 1998).  I follow along with the text as I listen because the words help anchor me.  Often, when I listen to radio dramatizations or lectures, I find my mind wanders easily.  The speaker says something that triggers an idea or a memory and the next thing I know, I have to rewind the audio because I’ve missed the last couple minutes while thinking.  By reading along, I find it easier to stay with the book.

I also find that following along as I listen is more like reading.  My goal is to read all of Dickens this year, so I feel that if I listen to an audiobook, then I’m not really reading, just listening, a slightly different process.  And by following along, the only difference is that instead of hearing the narrator and characters in my own head, I’m instead hearing Simon Vance’s voice (or many voices, as he fully dramatizes his reading).

And I can’t recommend this version highly enough.  I am tempted to listen to other Vance recordings.  He is an outstanding voice actor who breathes life into Dickens’ characters.

As for the novel itself, I find myself deeply drawn into the story (I have read the first 22 chapters so far).  At the beginning of March, I began Barnaby, but soon put it down.  I needed a break from Dickens (Horrors!), as well as time to read some books for other jobs.  On this second go-round, I can’t believe I was able to put down the novel at all.  Maybe it’s Vance’s voice, but I like to think it’s the power of Dickens.

I love this exchange between two characters.  The mysterious slouch-hatted “unsociable stranger” who has already attacked and wounded one character is confronted by another man (a gravedigger) who is trying to ascertain his identity.  But the unsociable stranger will have none of it and gives a great hard-boiled response.  The gravedigger begins the exchange:

‘A black night, master!’

‘It is a black night.’

‘Blacker than last, though that was pitchy too. Didn’t I pass you near the turnpike in the Oxford Road?’

‘It’s like you may. I don’t know.’

‘Come, come, master,’ cried the fellow, urged on by the looks of his comrades, and slapping him on the shoulder; ‘be more companionable and communicative. Be more the gentleman in this good company. There are tales among us that you have sold yourself to the devil, and I know not what.’

‘We all have, have we not?’ returned the stranger, looking up. ‘If we were fewer in number, perhaps he would give better wages.’

Phiz’s illustration of The Unsociable Stranger at the Maypole Inn.  He’s the one with seated at the table with the hat shading his face: