Needless to say, I bought the Wanderlust audiobook (on iTunes Canada) for the sole reason of listening to another Richard Armitage narration. I am not a big fan of pure contemporary romance
(or in this case, not so pure!) and after reading a free short ebook also by Lauren Blakely, I was not really eager to listen to this one. However, being a fan of the Armitage voice, I did indeed download it for my drive to and from the office.
I was surprised to find that, while I didn’t love Wanderlust, I also didn’t hate it. And by the end, I can even say that I was mostly enjoying it. However, unlike most of the Armitage-narrated audiobooks that I own, I really doubt that I will listen to it a second time.
I found the original cover (1st image) distracting every time I turned on my phone to listen, since it didn’t fit my image of the male narrator. (And after Luscinnia pointed out that the “Eiffel Tower stands unsubtle proud and strong”, I couldn’t quite look at it the same way again!) I noticed today that Wanderlust now has a new cover (2nd image) on Audible and iTunes, which I like much better.
You really have to take Wanderlust for what it is — a contemporary romance with little substance to it, little research behind it, and a few sex scenes thrown in. The basic plot is that Joy has been transferred to Paris to run a fragrance lab. Her French is pretty much non-existent and so her company hires a translator (Griffin) for her for three months. Of course, they fall for each other, but there are obstacles to their being together.
Lauren Blakely (at right) is a prolific writer and according to her website “has plotted entire novels while walking her dogs.” I would generally not read a book by this particular writer, as I prefer more plot, more character development, and sex scenes (if any) that are less crass and more classy or at least more fitting with the characters. But, I can listen to it with the right narrator (i.e. Richard Armitage). And I even got caught up in the romance and was looking forward to my next car trip as the book went along.
**Spoilers below** Some specific observations and reactions follow.
On Griffin Being a “Translator”:
- I know a little something about the business of interpretation and translation. The lack of research on the part of the author is clear, in that Griffin’s professional role for Joy’s company should actually be called “interpreter” (which is oral), not “translator” (which is written). That’s just kind of basic.
- It would probably never happen that a translator (written) would spend several months in a client’s business office, as Griffin had done in his last job. Most businesses would not have vacant space for that and most documents are transmitted electronically and worked on remotely.
- Would a translator/interpreter meet and become friends with anyone who works for the same company (Christian) or even regularly go in to see their “boss” (Jean-Paul)? Again, this is doubtful with electronic transfers of information/transactions and phone calls being the norm. (“Boss” itself is a doubtful term as most language specialists work freelance.)
- I find it highly unlikely, in these days of privacy laws, that the contact at Joy’s company (Marisol) would have been told and would convey the information that Annalise, the original “translator”, is having a difficult pregnancy and is now on bed-rest as per doctor’s orders.
Richard Armitage – “Griffin”:
From the author interview at the end of the audiobook, it is clear that the premise of the book started with the idea of the British hero. So, it makes sense that Griffin’s character and back-story are a little more developed than Joy’s.
- As we know, Richard Armitage performs his narrations as an actor performing a role. And it shows. The difference as we swing between Armitage and Grant is really quite jolting. Just when you are rolling along listening to a wonderful voice actor making the text sound good, the audiobook switches over to Grace Grant and spoils the mood. (More about Grant later.)
- Armitage treats this role as professionally as always and does a good job with the material. He is playing a 30-year-old with few ties to place and work, and he is convincing at that. His chuckles while speaking are very realistic. He seems also to have adjusted his accent a bit to a more of a London sound, dropping his “t”s on a lot of the words. And his French accent is really nice to hear.
- Armitage’s voice for Joy is excellent. In fact, I might like the book much better if he narrated the whole thing! (Although that might be a little strange in the sex scenes that are told from her point of view!) He does a really good American accent here. (The only word I noticed not being pronounced correctly was “marathon”, pronounced as “marathen”.) His voices for the other characters are good too, and he switches between them effortlessly as always.
Grace Grant – “Joy”:
I really dislike Grant’s voice. Her diction is good, but her narration comes across as artificial and forced, although it gets better towards the end of the book and particularly in dialogue. (Or maybe I just got used to it!) I would definitely describe her as a narrator, not an actor. She has a consistent tone that is somehow ironic, which gets really tiresome. That being said, many people obviously like her, as she has narrated at least 56 audiobooks, according to her website.
- Joy is not written like any professional 30-year-old woman that I have met. I hate the word choices for her character’s internal and external dialogue. I don’t know anyone in real life who actually says, “swoontastic”, “de-lish”, “hell to the yeah”, “le sigh”, or “amaze balls”. And truthfully I don’t want to know anyone who actually says those things as a regular part of their speech. Although again, there is less of this as the book goes on.
- I wonder why Joy does not have any hint of an East Texas accent. Partway through the book she claims to have “worked long and hard” to get rid of it… which seems an odd thing to want to do when your career up until now has been based in Texas!
- Grant’s voice for Griffin is a creepy low drawl and sometimes does not sound British at all. Her voices for the other characters are pretty good.
Some Things I Liked/Didn’t Like:
- Blakely tries to bring Paris to life for the reader, and particularly its less touristy bits, and she does a pretty good job with that. The characters explore chocolate shops, art galleries, and gardens while taking note of angels, sundials, and other hidden treasures. (The pink door of Joy’s flat, by the way, is really only significant in that it shows that she loves unique and colourful things and just has to have them — like the red-soled Louboutin shoes she loves.)
- I first realized that I didn’t hate the audiobook when I found myself smiling as Griffin and Joy tried to guess each other’s names when they first met through chance encounter. The flirtatious scene, narrated by Richard Armitage, is cute and funny. (The mood was then spoiled for me, though, when Griffin tells us, “She brings her hand to her chest and my eyes follow because… breasts.”)
- Blakely is quite good at banter and Armitage is very good at making it come alive. I really enjoyed the back-and-forth between Griffin and his brother (Ethan) and between Griffin and his friend Christian. It’s fun and funny and sounds very natural. And there’s another scene between Griffin and Joy with a misunderstanding about a “proposition” that is funny. (Most of the banter I found cute and/or funny is narrated by Armitage.)
- I didn’t enjoy getting inside Griffin’s head at times like when Joy eating an ice cream cone reminds him of something else. By contrast, though, there is a wonderful scene in Chapter 12, where Griffin leans in to smell the perfume on Joy’s neck and describes something heartfelt and sensual, rather than blatantly sexual. Blakely, in my opinion, does a good job of building the anticipation prior to Griffin and Joy finally throwing caution to the wind by kissing each other, starting a relationship, and sleeping together.
- There are actually only a few sex scenes. Griffin and Joy each have a solo scene around half way through the book, and then there are around four scenes together. During those scenes, there is a lot of description and dialogue using crude language, which for me takes away from the potential romantic quality that the scenes could have. One good thing, though, is that because Armitage is such a good actor, I really forgot that I was listening to Armitage the man, and instead I was fully listening to Griffin. That made it easier to hear Armitage speak those crude descriptions… and I luckily did not drive off the road!
- In contrast to some of the more crass sex scenes, when Griffin and Joy do first give in to their feelings, there is more romance and the writing conveys the yearning and urgent feelings of new love and new lust really well. I found myself quite caught up in it. However, because Joy’s character is really not well-developed, Griffin describes aspects of her character that are not evident in listening to Joy talk. He sees her as not needing anyone to look out for her, being independent, and being really sharp, but those things are not clear from the time we spend with Joy.
- The feelings around the difficult decisions that have to be made are really well conveyed and there are some good scenes (but also some sappy ones) towards the end of the book. Unfortunately, though, there is an unintentionally funny line by Griffin towards the end: “I say two simple words… Bonsoir.” Um, Griffin? “Bonsoir” is actually one word!
So. Overall, I enjoyed Armitage’s narration, but not Grant’s. I did got caught up in the romance, but didn’t like the crude language during and describing sex. I believe the book could have benefited from a more painstaking research and writing process. I didn’t hate this audiobook, but neither do I hope that Richard Armitage narrates another Lauren Blakely book.