Firstly, apologies for moving the time of this book club around again and again and again. It moved so often, in fact, I have no idea whether anybody will even be here this afternoon. But I do know that plenty of people have listened to, or read the book, and Sunday afternoon isn't a bad time to sit down with a glass of vino… So here we be.
This is the fourth or fifth time I have been through Max Brooks's World War Z, but the first time in audio format. It was a fascinating contrast that mirrored my experience recently with Iain M Banks The Player of Games. It wasn't like listening to a different story, but it was like coming at it in a very different way. The voice acting is a huge part of this. I hadn't realized until listening to the Audible version that some of the characters actually recurred. The guy who tells the story of the Battle of Yonkers, for instance, is the same character who narrates the first battle in which the New Army gets the better of Zack. Two of my favorite parts of the book, that I hadn't attributed to the same storyteller before now.
The voice acting was exemplary. I'm sure we can all forgive the terrible Australian accent, the flat nasal delivery from down under being one of the most difficult English dialects of all to get right. And even then I thought the actor did a pretty good job of it.
If possible, the experience of hearing the book was even more unsettling than reading it. Having been through the text a couple of times now, it's lost a lot of the initial power to shock and overwhelm. But hearing the actors do their Studs Terkel routine, ahem, reanimated some passages of text which had previously gone a bit lifeless for me.
I suppose it goes without saying that the greatest triumph of Brooks novel is "voice". And of course you really get to hear the different nuances of each character when they are being read out to you by talented narrators. I always found the passage where he interviewed the teenage girl with a mental age of four or five to be one of the most eerie and disturbing interludes. It was even more so here.
But putting aside the most obvious advantage of an audiobook I was again reminded of something else Brooks had done with the unusual format in which he chose to tell his story. He was able to very deftly give us both the strategic and tactical levels of this story. One of the challenges facing you as a writer when you decide to do an end of the world story is settling on how tightly to focus the arcs. Are we going to get lots of meetings in the White House with generals briefing the president, admirals directing fleets, foreign leaders discussing grand strategy? Or are we going to stay down in the mud with the grunts?
With Brooks, of course, you get it all. This was one of the great disappointments for people who were hoping for a faithful adaptation of the book by Brad Pitt. But as has been pretty well-established by now, unless Pitt decided to put his money into something like a twelve part mockumentary on HBO, that was never going to happen. Even a generous ensemble cast could not have faithfully translated this book to the screen. I still haven't seen World War Z at the movies, and won't now until it makes its way to cable. But I'm cool with that. One Saturday night six or seven months from now, I will sit down with a couple of drinks and a few salty snacks and take it in purely as an adventure film.
I won't say much more than that now. I just wanted to dash off a few quick thoughts in case anybody turned up here at four o'clock. I'm single parenting this afternoon, and this evening, but will keep an eye out in case anybody drops by.
My wine this arvo is Jim Barry's 2006 Macrae Hill Shiraz