Nine of the best audiobooks in 2019
Sales due to overtake ebooks thanks to increased sophistication of headphones
UK audiobook sales are on track to generate revenues of £115m next year, up 30% on last year’s figures.
“Spoken storytelling is enjoying a resurgence thanks to the increased sophistication of headphones, which allow readers to enjoy immersive tales on the go in unprecedented sound quality,” says The Times.
They are even touted to overtake ebooks, which may be on the wane, according to the annual technology and media trend predictions report from the consultants Deloitte.
So which are the best audiobooks available?
A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man
Colin Farrell has joined the league of high-profile narrators with his reading of A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man. The first novel of Irish writer James Joyce explores the intellectual awakening of the young Stephen Dedalus.
The New York Times suggests the actor’s “admirable coolness and restraint” is how Joyce, “a little shamefaced at the stylistic and, in places, emotional excesses of this great early work, would have wanted to hear it done - spoken, not sung”.
Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas
After his record-breaking bestseller This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay published a new book this year described as a “a love letter to all those who spend their festive season on the front line, removing babies and baubles from the various places they get stuck”.
The former doctor reads the book himself for a “hilarious, horrifying and sometimes heartbreaking peek behind the blue curtain”.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
A much-loved science-fiction classic, this entertaining space opera has a lot going for it as an audiobook - primarily the narration by polymath Stephen Fry. Author Douglas Adams displays his extraordinary talents for world-making in this first of five audiobooks in the Hitchhiker’s series. Full to the brim with brilliant humour, memorable characters and a highly original storyline, it’s no wonder that this novel has been translated into more than 30 languages and made its way on to many best book lists since its publication.
The Book Thief
Brought to life by the deep, undulating tones of narrator Allan Corduner, The Book Thief is Markus Zusak’s 2005 New York Times bestseller about a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany. Corduner’s characterisation of the book’s protagonists means The Book Thief will live long in the memory.
Convenience Store Woman
The award-winning Japanese novel written by Sayaka Murata was something of a cult hit when it was translated into English for the first time in 2018. The book centres on a 36-year-old woman named Keiko Furukura, an oddball who is endlessly puzzled by human behaviour. Nancy Wu’s narration “settles on exactly the right tone: bright, keen on all the details of correct convenience-store operations, and pragmatic, yet bewildered by the rest of humanity and its prerogatives”, says Slate.
Lincoln in the Bardo
Possibly the most anticipated audiobook of all-time, George Saunders’ Man Booker Prize winner features 166 narrators, ranging from TV comedy royalty such as Nick Offerman to Academy Award winners such as Susan Sarandon. The book itself reads like a script, and each speaking part is a person whose spirit haunts the graveyard next to Honest Abe’s recently departed son.
“I imagined myself reading the attributions in this monotonous South Side Chicago accent, trying to do all these different people, and I just thought it would be a drag,” Saunders told Wired. So he suggested to audiobook producer Kelly Gildea that they assemble a motley crew to do the voices and the result makes for an enchanting listening experience.
Donna Tartt’s highly acclaimed third novel won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The story of a young boy who gets mixed up in the dangerous world of selling art on the black market is beautifully narrated by David Pittu, who won the 2014 Audie Award for best male narrator for this standout performance.
Me Talk Pretty One Day
David Sedaris’s funny, charming and moving memoir tells an unconventional life story. From budding performance artist to “clearly unqualified” writing teacher in Chicago, his career leads him to New York and, eventually, France. Sedaris narrates the memoir himself, telling listeners about his hilarious attempts to learn French, as well as performing a surprisingly brilliant Billie Holiday impression and wittily dissecting his eventful childhood.
Nora Ephron’s largely autobiographical novel about the break-up of a marriage is vividly brought to life 30 years after publication by Meryl Streep’s narration. In this inspired confection of adultery, revenge and group therapy, the creator of Sleepless in Seattle underlines the notion that comedy is just tragedy plus time. Among the highlights are Streep’s spot-on voices for the cast of mostly holier-than-thou characters.