chapter  6
18 Pages

Novelist as “Sound-Thief”: The Audiobooks of John le Carré: Garrett Stewart


I well remember my fi rst revelatory encounter with the audiobook phenomenon. I was gently proselytizing Dickens for the sake of my teenage daughter on a long car trip to Chicago when, although I had read and taught the novel several times, I for the fi rst time heard, actually heard, Dickens’s sly anticipation of his famous second-chapter set piece from Hard Times-the drudge Bitzer’s defi nition of a horse in bite-sized categorical increments: “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth,” and so forth, including a double emphasis on hoofs: “Sheds coat in spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. . . . Thus (and much more) Bitzer.”1 Every lover of Dickens remembers this passage, one that might have gone over well on the lecture circuit in his famous readings just before the days of the phonograph. But what I had never noticed before is the pun that sees this satiric turn coming, when the pedant Gradgrind fails to browbeat Sissy Jupe, the circus girl who lives and breathes horses, into becoming abstract about them-and humiliates her instead in front of the class. It takes the expert, unctuous delivery of Frederick Davidson on the CD to let Gradgrind’s bombast contaminate even the infl ated phonetic irony of indirect discourse: “‘Girl number twenty unable to defi ne a horse!’ said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof”—with three double oo’s at least-of the assembled students (called “pitchers” in their waiting ful(l)- fi ll-ment by fact).2 My car swerved dangerously under impact from this exhalation of hot air in “behoof.”