Ah, Wanderlust. I so much wanted to love it. I was predisposed to be favorable toward it, as I frequently do enjoy this light genre and I adore RA narrations, but I have to admit I was a tiny bit disappointed. The writing/story just wasn’t strong enough. It took me a lot longer to listen to this one than the average 7 to 8 hour audiobook. This was partly due to my own distractions, as I spent time watching Winter Olympics the past several days while doing kitchen and laundry tasks, rather than immersed in the book. But there have been other Olympics when I kept an eye on the TV while listening to a better book, so I can only conclude that my inordinate interest in Olympic commentary reflects my general lack of connection to the story. SPOILERS below….
The plot was on the weak side. More specifically, the romantic conflict was feeble. I love the genre, so it isn’t about the fact that it has a Happily-Ever-After or is, plotwise, ultimately predictable. That is the just the way of the genre, and if that doesn’t float one’s boat, it’s going to be hard for any romance novel to please. But I appreciate a love story and the feel-good ending as much as the next romance reader. And it’s not that I require an overly large heaping of angst in my romance reading, but I do value a solid romantic conflict, and it wasn’t really to be found here. That Joy and Griffin initially cannot act on their mutual attraction because they are working together, with Griffin hired by Joy’s company as an on-the-job translator, certainly didn’t tug at my heartstrings. This leaves the “time-limit” on their relationship as the major romantic conflict, and it had potential to be quite interesting.
Griffin’s bucket list, written by his dying brother, means he intends to leave Paris for Indonesia in a few short months, to realize the dream of running a marathon there… and after that, he’s destined to go on travelling the world. The problem is, his heart obviously isn’t in it, which means my heart wasn’t really in it, in terms of the romantic conflict. I didn’t feel that Griffin actually had a case of wanderlust, and therefore, there wasn’t actually a believable conflict. (The concept of wanderlust as a romantic conflict was much better explored in Truth or Beard by Penny Reid- Lauren Blakely’s solution for it was, to me, kind of a cop out.) But in absence of a great romantic conflict, a character-driven romance can still be wonderful.
The characters, then, also weren’t strong enough. It isn’t going well when I find myself eye-rolling during the story. This happened a number of times for me in Wanderlust, and I won’t list all the eye-rollers here. But
bear with me while I bitch for a minute, because the heroine, Joy, really lost my respect when she opted to wear flip flops to her first day of work. I mean, flip-flops are unprofessional in most work settings that aren’t the pool or the beach, and especially day 1 on the job! But even if she’s the most casual new laboratory supervisor ever… well, any lab I’ve been a part of (and I totally manned the chem lab supply room and was a student assistant in more than one on-campus biochem research lab for extra spending money as an undergrad), it was a pretty firm rule that everyone in the lab wears impermeable, closed-footed shoes. Perforated shoes, sandals, cloth shoes and for fuck’s sake flip flops? All a no-go. Safety first, Joy! Safety. First.
And then she had a problem when she asked a fellow co-worker for a particular dilution of peach-essence while mixing a new fragrance. The dilution was lost in translation and she wasted her afternoon concocting a mixture that was way too strong. Couldn’t this have been written numerically, just a quick jotted 1:8 or 1:whatever to be sure there wasn’t confusion? Use your numbers, Joy. Use. Your. Numbers.
But enough about Joy. You get the idea. I didn’t buy that she was very bright at all, much less the brilliant new star of the show at the fragrance company. Was her part performed well? Grace Grant gets a B- from me. She did a nice job conveying that Joy is a bubbly, positive type of person, but I really wasn’t digging her British accent for Griffin. Perhaps if I hadn’t had Richard’s voice with which to compare and contrast, I wouldn’t have become so bent out of shape about it, but I just didn’t like it when she narrated his dialogue. I found I liked Griffin during Griffin’s chapters, but wasn’t able to hang onto my affection for him during Joy’s chapters. I frequently found myself wishing this had been a male-only POV, and then we could have Richard reading all the chapters. Dual narration isn’t usually a problem for me, though, so I have to think that Grace Grant is getting the short end of the stick here. I just wanted Richard reading all the chapters. Period.
So on to Richard Armitage as Griffin. He gets an A- from me. Part of this may not be his fault. I was frequently distracted from what he was saying because I was wondering in my head what he thought about the lines he was narrating. For years I used to read romance novels at home, but my audiobook selections (always cd’s from the library) would be from other genres. There was a time when romance audiobooks were few and far between, and male narrators were rare. When I did eventually decide to try a few audio versions of romance novels, I found I had a problem becoming distracted wondering what male narrators “thought” of the material they were covering. For years, romance novels were sort of a guilty secret to some extent- my family and significant others might know I read them, but I didn’t like to read them in public where I’d feel judged for my reading choices. All this to say, I had this preconception that romance novels were mainly read by women and in privacy, so it was strange to imagine a guy reading the story, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the male narrator’s reactions were. Was he laughing at this stuff, making fun of his listeners after hours, rolling his eyes at us? Eventually, as more and more romance novels became available on audio, and male narrators became popular for dual POV and even entire novels, I got over this problem, and now I rarely worry about what the male narrator is thinking. That is, until THIS particular narrator embarked on his first steamy novel. LOL
So, RA in the steamy sections- decent, but my own head got in the way of things, and to be perfectly honest, I’ve heard better. There were moments in the narrative where Armitage would lower his voice into a suggestive tone as Griffin contemplates his desire for Joy, but in the actual encounters, I felt he wasn’t 100% invested, at least in the descriptive paragraphs. The writing of the sex scenes was only so-so, but I thought he could have done a little better. The dialogue was narrated far more sexily than the descriptive sections, with a lower register and occasional breathless quality that I liked. Dialogue in general is really a strength for Armitage; it shines and elevates the writing every time. But the writing itself was just generic fare for sex scenes, and also, certain words or phrases can always annoy me. Tits is one of those words. If I hear “tits”, it throws me right out of the moment.
I never want to hear Richard Armitage say “tits” again in this life.
So, RA’s narration of the steamy scenes gets about a B+, and his dialogue gets an A. That dialogue rating should have been an A+, as I really liked the French (
I’d definitely love to hear many more lines from him in French), and I thought most of the emotional sections, especially the flashback conversations with Griffin’s dying brother, were narrated flawlessly. But there was one area of dialogue that irritated me. His mother was supposed to be French, and that is the reason Griffin was so fluent in French… so why did his conversations with his mother not reflect a French accent on her part? I actually kind of liked the voice he gave the mother, this voice for an older British lady, as initially it made me wonder if this was an impression of the way Armitage’s own mother might sound on the telephone. Imagining that felt like a small insight into Armitage himself. But then I remembered that Griffin’s mother was French, and I wondered whether Armitage had forgotten that detail, and why the Audible director didn’t ask him to try a different voice? Can The Armitage do no wrong, or was nobody really paying attention to minor plot points? LOL
As for the story itself, it wasn’t horrible or completely idiotic, but it just didn’t quite live up to what I hoped it could be. I really enjoyed the picture that Lauren Blakely painted of Paris- I’ve never visited the city, but this book inspired an interest in me to see the colorful doors with quirky knockers, the flowers and gardens with hidden angels and sundials, etc. That was well-done, and the author’s love of Paris shined through. And there were a few funny/quirky details that I also enjoyed here and there, such as Griffin’s friend Christian being the naked guy doing handstands to entertain the canal tours in Copenhagan. And I enjoyed some humorous moments- when Joy has a “proposition” for Griffin, and misunderstanding her intention, he becomes overly eager at the prospect. I couldn’t help but chuckle at Armitage’s delivery as Griffin comes on strongly with a little under-the-table fondling in a restaurant, which leaves her breathless, but grinds to a halt when she explains that the proposition involves her wishing to hire him to teach her French. And I was happily entertained by the flirty name game between “Archie” and “Judy” in the beginning… the way Armitage says the name Judy was rather fan-freaking adorable.
So I didn’t feel that I had wasted my time by listening to Wanderlust. I basically enjoyed the Griffin-narrated chapters in much the same way that I enjoyed Richard’s role in Vicar of Dibley- it was lighthearted fun, with a few annoyances, but pleasurable simply for the novelty of the situation. VOD or Wanderlust will never be my favorite performances, but they were memorable and brought more smiles than eye-rolls.
My personal review: Overall: B-
Richard Armitage’s Narration: A-
Grace Grant’s Narration: B-
Lauren Blakely’s Story: C (I feel a little bit bad about this, as in the author interview at the end, she came across a pretty sweet person and she was really excited about this story!)