I think I’ve mentioned here, or at least in a video blog from my studio, that from where I sit as I record my books I can see out of the front window to the street. In our front garden we have a couple of medium size trees and just last week, as I was in the middle of recording ‘Tongues of Serpents’, I became aware of a kerfuffle in the branches of one of those trees.
It turns out there was some kind of hawk, with prey in claw, being harassed by a couple of scrub jays (who must have had a nest, or young, they were protecting). We have a large open space nearby and I’m fascinated by the amount of ‘natural’ life we get to see. I paused my recording, grabbed my camera, and crept around the side of the house to witness what was happening.
There was the hawk sitting on a branch with a quite substantial animal gripped beneath its claws – it looked not dissimilar to a small stuffed rabbit that a child might have…. Christopher Robin would have been most upset!
After withstanding the barrage from these scrub jays for several minutes my hawk took off when a couple walking their rather large dogs came a little too close… Scared the dog walkers almost out of their skin as it soared out of the tree and over their heads.
Now, despite being linked in the title of this blog the events describe above have nothing to do with Proust and Joyce (sorry if you were expecting me to reveal some unknown interaction between the two authors – an argument in the woods, perhaps?):
I have just embarked on a recording of ‘Swann’s Way’, the first of the seven volumes that make up Marcel Proust’s mammoth ‘À La Recherche du Temps Perdu’ – which translates directly as ‘In Search of Lost Time’, but for many years has been better (if erroneously) known in English as ‘Remembrance of Things Past’.
Whenever I am asked to pick up and record a ‘classic’ I have to pause and take a breath before accepting the assignment. The first and most important question I ask myself is: Can I really do it justice…? Has it already been done … and better than I could do it? (Maybe Hollywood should ask itself the same question when thinking about remakes)
Sometime early last year I was asked by a publisher to take on James Joyce’s Ulysses. I hate to turn down work, especially something that could keep me busy for many, many days (as this would have done). But I did turn this down for two very good reasons: It would be an extremely difficult novel too do well (I just wouldn’t have the time to spend preparing every inch of this novel in the way it deserved), and there was already a most amazing version available to the listening public in which great work had been done to produce an authentic ‘Irish’ version (Jim Norton and Marcella Riordan, directed by Roger Marsh).
In being asked to narrate Proust I had a similar sense that I should pause and think hard. Before accepting the assignment I read parts of the book… and fell in love. I think this came along at just the right time for me. I’m at an age now where I find myself in reveries of nostalgia, searching in my memory for those sensations of the long past… the same very small details of childhood that Proust begins his journey with. I love the way he finds his way around in his memories, there’s no sense of rush, this is not a book in a hurry. As I write this I have only just recorded about three hours of what may be around 20 (it’s doubtful that any future volumes will be recorded, but you never know) so I don’t know how I’ll feel by the end, but right now I’m relishing it. I hope that comes out in the final recording.
By the way, this is a photograph of me at three years old – and I remember with fondness that polka-dot bow tie….