Guest Post, Video THE HOUSE AT THE EDGE OF NIGHT author Catherine Banner on the magic of audiobooks

By Catherine Banner

I’ve loved audiobooks almost as long as I’ve loved stories. In the early nineties, when I discovered them, they were called ‘story tapes’ and came from the local library. In the small town where I grew up, the library’s audiobook collection was limited. We got used to listening to the same worn cassettes over and over, swapping them with classmates when we were finished. These audiobooks were mostly old-fashioned children’s literature, recorded in the seventies and eighties by actors with BBC voices: Enid Blyton and The Secret Garden; Narnia and Roald Dahl. But during the years when, as a sleepless child, I turned to audiobooks to hear that most comforting of all sounds, a kind voice telling me a story, I discovered something magical. A good book can be read in your head only a limited number of times before it gets dull. It has to be rationed: reread once a year, perhaps, and then put away on a shelf until the process of forgetting has taken place and it becomes new again. But a story read aloud is new each time it is told. I must have listened to some of those library audiobooks fifty times. But they always felt, in some sense, like fresh stories, even when I could repeat all of their words. So for a lifelong audiobook fan, receiving the finished audio copy of The House at the Edge of Night was a moment just as exciting for me as receiving the finished novel.

I hadn’t even known my book was going to be an audiobook until I received a message from my publisher’s audio department. They asked me what kind of narrator I wanted for the book. An ideal narrator came to mind at once, but I didn’t say so: I felt that, as a debut writer, it would be presumptuous of me to request a specific actor. So instead, I thought of my favourite audiobooks and noted down some of the qualities I’d come to value. A narrator who could bring each character to life without belittling or judging any of them. Someone whose voice was old-fashioned, who had something of the magic of a storyteller speaking by a lit fire. An actor who was able to shift between nuances of light and shade, comedy and tragedy, like the writers I most loved. And, more practically, someone who would be able to handle the book’s shifts between Italian and English. It was an oddly specific list. But the producer emailed me straight back: how about an excellent actor she knew of called Edoardo Ballerini? This was uncanny, because he was the very narrator I’d had in mind.

Catherine Banner on Audiobooks

In the following months, I heard a short clip, but it took a while for the finished audiobook to reach me via post in Italy. It arrived just before I was due to leave home for the book’s publication. By that time, The House at the Edge of Night, as a printed book, felt oddly separate from me. Writing a book is in many ways a slow process of losing. Like a child, a finished book goes away from you by degrees, separating itself gawkily until it stands alone. By the time it is edited, you will have read and reread it so many times that you can no longer make yourself see the words on the page. The finished book exists for its writer only in a kind of fog, too familiar to be real.
But I was eager to listen to at least some of the audiobook of The House at the Edge of Night, to see what Edoardo Ballerini had made out of the story, and I loaded it onto my iPod and carried it with me.

In the end, I listened to it all. I listened to it while ill with a fever the day before the journey; on the plane; on trains in and out of unfamiliar cities. Hearing it in just the right voice, a magical thing happened: it made the story new again. I felt the characters’ predicaments—war, loss, financial crisis—with something of what had moved me to write about those things in the first place, before I became inured to them through repetition. I laughed, not at the jokes but at the way Edoardo Ballerini so brilliantly delivered them, somehow making them funnier than they had ever been on paper. And there was something ageless in his voice, too, something that made the story bigger, and connected it to a web of other stories present and past. Listening to the audiobook, I remembered that The House at the Edge of Night was always intended, in my own mind, to be read aloud. It had its first origins in the folktales of Sicily and Italy, and the tradition of writing I work in is, broadly speaking, an oral storytelling one. In that tradition, everybody knows a story can be told a hundred times as long as it’s told the right way.

Listening to Edoardo Ballerini’s beautiful reading, I was reminded of why I first loved audiobooks, and stories. I had expected to find the process of hearing my own book read aloud odd and unsettling. Instead, it was a great gift. To hear your own book read so perfectly, as its writer, is to have that story returned to you when you thought it gone. The House at the Edge of Night is out in the world now, no longer mine. But now, if I ever want my story back for a while, I know where to find it.

Edoardo Ballerini

LISTEN TO A CLIP of The House at the Edge of Night:

“Narrator Edoardo Ballerini’s voice is as rich and beguiling as Catherine Banner’s tale of the Esposito family of Castellamara, a mythical little island near Sicily…Banner delivers a detailed saga of five generations of memorable characters, family lore, historical events, and a little bit of local magic…Ballerini’s masterful presentation adds an extra level of enjoyment to the story.”—AudioFile

“Banner’s superbly written drama is rich in engaging characters and the mystical island stories passed on from one generation to the next.”—Booklist

“Ah, what fun. Don’t miss it.”—Kirkus, starred review

THE HOUSE AT THE EDGE OF NIGHT is also available in hardcover and ebook
from Random House.

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