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Friday, October 15, 2021

Reader's Diary #2244 - Jordan Tannahill: The Listeners

This year I was asked to be on a Shadow Giller Jury with Lindy and Penny and happily joined the team, knowing full well I'm amateur-hour compared to those two! (Seriously, check out their blogs!)

Anyway, the short list came out just recently so I've had to jump in fast. The first I read was Omar El Akkad's What Strange Paradise and the second was Jordan Tannahill's The Listeners. Already I'm excited for the debate as these are so different from one another.

The Listeners is about a woman whose life is turned upside down when she inexplicably starts to hear a hum. It's distracting, sometimes gives her nosebleeds, and worst of all her family thinks it's all in her head. Finally, she meets a group of others who can hear it and they lean on one another for support as they lose their once normal lives.

But more than the obvious plot differences, the two books are written so stylistically different. If Akkad is Margaret Atwood, Tannahill is Stephen King. That's not the insult some will make it out to be. It's just that Some Strange Paradise seems to wear its literary aspirations on its sleeve, whereas The Listeners is more grounded. Some like to refer to this a Literature (with capital L) versus literature (with a lowercase L) but I feel this is too elitist. To me it's more like the difference between impressionist art versus realistic art, there's value in both. 

There's a scene in The Listeners for example when the narrator goes into detail about a Mexican dish brought by one of the support group. It doesn't further the plot and there's nothing particularly remarkable about the description, but it does help set the scene and make the reader feel more a part of the story. Such a scene is common place in this novel, but rare in Some Strange Paradise; the latter is more concise and poetic. 

I would say The Listeners is more accessible and entertaining of the two, but still offers poignant thoughts on contemporary themes (alienation, conspiracy theories, complex love). Choosing one book over another though? I think it would come down to the style of writing you enjoy. 

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