It was early 2010 and I was gifted a Twilight audiobook, a CD set with one of the most hated apples in the modern literary universe on the cover. I don’t recall if I had seen the movie with the ridiculous sun sparkles on Cedric’s face, but the combination of the universal tween obsession and critical panning of both the books and the movie made me raise my eyebrows at the present.
Back then I would drive to the office and back, and occupy the time behind the wheel immersed into a story told in a flowing voice of a professional narrator. I am one of those people for whom driving a familiar route takes zero mental effort. The eyes follow the road, the hands move the wheel, the instincts and habits anticipate the traffic long enough ahead to avoid surprises, and so the mind is free to wander. I used to listen to the radio, but music was not my thing, and CBC Radio One had been steadily declining in the quality of programming in the early 2000s, so I needed something else to fill the mind. And that’s how I almost completely switched from reading to listening. These days I do not drive to work, and do not even own a car, and I miss the time when I would turn the car key and get lost in a story, up until getting out of the car at the destination, having absolutely no recollection of the trip itself. My travel companions were quite eclectic, from Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth to Michael Valentine Smith. Some were as irritating as Cercei Lannister, others as hapless as Arthur Dent, yet others as clever as Sherlock Holmes, or as adorable as The Little Prince. And so I shrugged at the gift, and one day, with no other audiobooks at hand, I had popped the CD in, mostly to report to the gifter that I did, in fact, do my best to try to listen to that.
And so I heard Ilyana Kadushin narrating Bella. Whatever literary foibles the written text had, she made them disappear without changing a single word. I was transported into a world of a warm, confident and open 17 year old girl whose world was about to be turned upside down and inside out. The silly sparkles and the nothing-like-in-Bram-Stoker-stories vampires faded into the background as the story of a girl falling in love for the first time and struggling to deal with it unfolded in Ilyana’s melodic voice. Nearly every good story is about the protagonist’s struggling in their search for identity, though of course not every search-for-identity story is any good. Whatever else you may thing about the Twilight saga, the whole series is about Bella coming of age. The self-confident yet love-struck teen of the first book, the broken depressed girl of the second, the worrywart caretaker of the third, and eventually getting back the lost confidence, gaining in maturity and becoming an unlikely hero. And the leitmotif of the story is Bella’s reflex to self-sacrifice to protect others.
Sounds banal, doesn’t it? And yet. The narrator’s voice bewitched me. The story entranced me. The two CDs of the first book ended too soon. I needed more. The irony of an older dude hooked on a tween vampire fantasy did not escape me, and a part of me was cracking up at that other part, craving for more. More of the disarming flowing voice telling a story of a girl trying to survive and to keep safe those she loves, no matter the obstacles. The driving time was no longer enough to get the fix. I started sneaking out during my lunch break to get another 10 min of bliss. I had trouble pausing the story when arriving to my destination, usually back home, and instead was sitting in the car after turning the engine off, which earned me some sidelong glances and uncomfortable questions from the family. I had ripped the CDs and put the story on an MP3 player (I did not have a smartphone back then yet), and walked around the house with headphones. Like someone had cast a riddikulus spell on me.
And then I was done. The last book was finished. I knew how it ended. Yay, the spell is broken, right? Right?! Tough luck. I still had all the CDs in the glove compartment. And so back in goes the very first CD. Twilight groundhog day. At this point the smirking part of me just waved the imaginary hands and reached for popcorn to see what happens. By the end of the year I could probably quote whole paragraphs from any place in the story. Guilty pleasures. I contemplated driving to Forks, a whole day of driving each way. I will spare you the more embarrassing ideas I had. Or maybe even attempted. Well, I will spare myself, mostly. There are some things I am not ready to admit even to myself. And I have admitted a lot to myself lately.
The spell of this particular guilty pleasure eventually faded away. The incongruities in the story and the sometimes jarring writing style ended up standing out more and more, perfect narrating or not. And so when the car was sold, the pile of much overplayed CDs in the glove compartment finally got discarded. New car, new audiobooks. One thing I am grateful for though is that Ilyana Kadushin did not narrate Fifty Shades!