In brief: Silvia lies in a coma after a balcony fall. As her family, friends and employees visit her, we get to know who Silvia is – we think.
The good: The audiobook is primarily read by Dawn French, so the funny moments are brilliantly done.
The not-so-good: I didn’t find Ed to be a particularly likeable character.
Why I chose it: I wanted to try an audiobook – I’ve enjoyed Dawn French’s writing and acting, so it was an easy choice.
Length: 9 hours, 20 minutes (the book is 432 pages)
My rating: 8.5 out of 10
Trawling the library shelves for my first audiobook, I really wasn’t sure what to pick. An author I had read and trusted? Someone completely new? A familiar genre? Something completely different? Then I hit upon Dawn French’s Oh Dear Silvia. I liked Dear Fatty and A Tiny Bit Marvellous, plus I always enjoy watching The Vicar of Dibley even if I’ve seen the episode on twenty times, so I decided on this. I can’t remember why I never got around to buying Oh Dear Silvia when it came out, but that’s inconsequential now. Plus, the audiobook advertised itself as being a full cast recording with Dawn French herself. I didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded very impressive. So armed with 9 CDs, I listened to this book over two weeks, which contained one huge traffic jam and somewhere to go nearly everyday day.
It turned out that ‘full cast recording’ means that there is a number of readers/actors (I’m not certain of the terminology) in the book. Dawn is the narrator and it was lovely to listen to her voice as I’m already quite familiar with it. The book is divided up into chapters and different actors play the characters in the book. As the book centres on Silvia, who is in ‘Coma Suite Number 5’ (read: ICU Bed 5, suite sounds very posh) after a nasty fall, each chapter is a character interacting with Silvia. All the characters had different voices and accents, which made distinguishing between them simple. There’s Winnie, Silvia’s nurse (and an excellent one) who is from Jamaica and fusses around Silvia as though she could hear her. There’s husband Ed, who reminded me of Hugh in The Vicar of Dibley – he was a little mumbly at times, but the epitome of the bumbling Englishman. Sister Jo is full of good wishes for her sister, but comes across as off centre and annoying (animal therapy in an ICU?) There’s best friend Cat, who talks in a rapid, no nonsense voice – yet reveals more and more truths as the book unfolds. Tia, Silvia’s housekeeper from Indonesia, regularly visits with gifts for Silvia and tales of Silvia’s things she’s sold on eBay to ‘even’ the workload. (Plus, Tia’s accent makes ‘Mrs Chute’ sound rather, um, different). Finally, there are children Cassie who hasn’t had a relationship with Silvia since she became pregnant with Willow as a teenager and her son (whose name I can’t remember), who left to become a soldier and doesn’t care what happens to his mum. All the characters were played very well with elements of humour. There are some stereotypes involved, but I chose to look past them in this character driven book. It’s all the differences in the characters that made me more intrigued on how they would interact while focused on one thing – Silvia.
As an audiobook, I think Oh Dear Silvia was excellent. The plot was fast enough to stop me drifting away and the changing characters in each chapter kept things fresh. There were several ‘OMG’ moments revealed casually by a character talking to Silvia, which made the reasons for her being in a coma all the more intriguing. I also found that my opinion changed of Silvia from sympathy, to disgust and then…well, that would spoil the ending. The audiobook also had some nice touches – the sound of the respirator in Silvia’s room and Winnie singing.
I found the ending quite emotive, even though I guessed what was going to happen. I think it had more impact for me being spoken rather than reading it on the page. The book also taught me not to judge immediately on first experiences, as all the characters revealed themselves to be different in the end from their introduction. It shows there can be a lot more simmering under the surface of a family than what others see. I felt Dawn French revealed this in a way that was both humorous and respectful. I think, by listening to this book rather than reading it, I got more out of it. Listening to the characters in an almost theatre-like fashion brought them to life.
Thanks Dawn. You’ve definitely switched me off the radio and onto audiobooks.