This is an interesting article to write to put it mildly. To explain somewhat to my readers apart from my interest in science-fiction/fantasy, history, crime and other genres I’ve covered previously, I have a self-confessed fascination with the bizarre. Especially cult like movements and behaviour such as Rajneeshpuram, Heaven’s Gate, the movement responsible for the infamous Japanese sarin gas attacks and others along those lines.
So when I was searching for a new listen a few years ago and noticed a book on Scientology it piqued my interest. And on top of that it was written by John Sweeney? The BBC Panorama reporter famous and going viral for – as he puts it in the book – turning into an ‘exploding tomato’? You had my curiosity…now you have my attention.
The book itself is a 50/50 affair. Sweeney endeavours to mix an autobiographical account from the perspective of the Panorama crew as to what happened during the recording of their 2007 programme on the Church of Scientology including lots of details that didn’t make it into the final programme for various reasons and a dissection on how the Church operates behind closed doors based on interviews with ex-members – of all levels – and experts in various subjects. It makes an interesting listen if the subject interests you with a lot of details I would have never have believed if it wasn’t coming from reputable sources.
Personally I found the book absolutely fascinating and engrossing. Although I can safely say it is not for the faint of heart. Some of the stories break your heart. Some of them make you feel sick. And some of them make you want to punch a hole in the wall. Sweeney may have ‘gone tomato’ when he did. But honestly? If he were me? I would have exploded long before that point. I’m not exactly balanced when it comes to the subject having read and watched enough over the years to have made my mind up long ago. If you listen to the audiobook? Or read the paper version? You can make your own judgements. Although I repeat again: Know what you are getting into.
The narration for the audiobook version is performed by Sweeney himself. To be honest having listened to the book a few times, I can’t really imagine it any other way. His narration really helps you get into his head space when they are being followed by the Church or when he discusses his complete self-confessed paranoia by the time of his last few days in the United States. When bringing up facts and information he conveys the details well – as can be expected of a reporter. As a listener I find myself being able to understand the information presented and take it in and make my own decisions as required. The combination works really well in my mind and makes the total package feel consistent and coherent. I get the feeling that a version with a different narrator would come across worse given the first-person nature of much of the narrative.
In conclusion this is an audiobook I do recommend if you are interested in the subject and feel you can cope with some of the places it goes. I understand that this is NOT everyone’s cup of tea – to put it mildly –and I hope to return to my usual oeuvre with my next article.