In 1997, Patrick Malahide narrated Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom. It is an abridged version of the novel, but it works beautifully, allowing for increased characterization and intensity. This won’t be a full recap, for that Wikipedia has an excellent synopsis.
Set during WWII, Goodnight Mister Tom is the story of young London evacuee William “Willie” Beech. All his life he has been abused by his mother, so when he is sent to widower Mr. Tom Oakley he is a shell of a boy. Willie can’t read; he wets his bed, is covered with bruises and malnourished and is in a very bad way.
With patience and love, Mister Tom and his dog Sammy give Willie new confidence, and together they begin living life to its fullest. When Willie wets his bed, Mister Tom never chastises him but simply and with kindness cleans up the mess. His method involves patience, allowing the boy to develop at his own pace.
Widowed Mister Tom also grows as a character as he re-enters village life by asking for assistance in helping Willie and lending a hand to various village concerns. The entire community befriends Willie who we learn is a born artist. The details of his drawings and acting are wonderfully portrayed. The boy who was thought of as a silly sissy at his school in London is actually brilliant and insightful.
William’s journey is a powerful one, both uplifting and terrifying. Sammy the dog plays a big part in his early development by providing a comfort for him. Later he learns to talk to other boys and girls who genuinely appreciate his company. The chapter where he picks berries for the first time is especially sweet. He is a little ashamed that he can’t carry his large bucket of blackberries, but his new friend George is very pleased to help him.
While most of William’s village life is wonderful, the story becomes incredibly bleak, depressing and even horrifying when he is recalled back to London to visit his mother. Mrs. Beech is a singularly terrifying character, and Mr. Malahide gives her a cutting and brittle voice. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending despite all the sadness William has to endure.Mr. Malahide captures all the characters, from the gruff, loving Mister Tom to William’s young and exuberant friend Zach whose catchphrase “wizzo!” will stick with you. One thing I especially like is that there is no attempt to juvenilize the children with high, squeaky voices. Their slightly raspy tones add to the audio experience. It reminds me, in a way, of early Peanuts comics in which the children were most certainly children (Charlie Brown can be nothing but), but they are so very well-realized with an ageless aura of wisdom about them. I hope that makes sense, click this if it doesn’t.
Although abridged, this is still a very lengthy and fulfilling audio book. Mr. Malahide always does an outstanding job in all his book narrations and this is no exception.
Amazon.co.uk link (only 12 left in stock at the time of this posting!)