Lend me your (recommendations for media to put in my) ears
November 14, 2021 6:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for great audio books of first person fiction where the writing and narration combine to give an incredibly strong sense of character and voice.

1) Fiction only
2) First person, with the main character telling you their own story

Examples of three audio books that epitomize what I'm looking for: Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, Anna Burns's Milkman and Tana French's The Witch Elm. All have distinctive, well-realized protagonists interpreted by gifted narrators, and felt like spending time with interesting, complicated people working through their own thoughts.

I generally tend toward literary fiction and mysteries but I'm perfectly happy to take recommendations that are somewhat less meandering and elegaic than my list of examples might suggest. I've listened to most of the other Tana French books as well and enjoyed them, but didn't find the narrators as compelling; I suspect Elena Ferrrante's Neapolitan novels would be another strong contender if I hadn't already read them on paper.

Extra credit either for audio books that are under 10 hours or so, or for ones that fall under the very broad umbrella of "classic literature," although feel entirely free to suggest things that don't fit these categories. Thanks in advance for any and all suggestions!
posted by eponym to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It is about 12 hours, but I listened to Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead based on a recommendation in another AskMe post, and the narrator really sells the story, she is eccentric but so certain of her own world view.
posted by phlox at 7:44 PM on November 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Canada, by Richard Ford. It's about 14 hours long. The narrator is a man telling about events that happened to him when he was a teenager.
posted by MyDogRay at 7:54 PM on November 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I recently listened to Debbie Reynolds's Unsinkable and Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking, both read by the authors. I enjoyed them very much.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:32 PM on November 14, 2021

Best answer: Circe by Madeline Miller. I'm so glad I listened to it as an audiobook; I was transported by the narration. I felt like I was listening to confidences from the goddess herself.
posted by rogerroger at 8:43 PM on November 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Circe. The narration combines so beautifully with the story. It was utterly compelling, one of the best books I listened to this year. I could not stop listening to it.

Some others that fit your description:
  • Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson, read by Marin Ireland. Lillian, a disaffected young woman, tells us of the peculiar job she takes, looking after two children who happen to burst into flame when they are upset. It sounds weird but it’s quite funny and touching and Lillian is a fantastic narrator (and Marin Ireland does such a great job voicing her).
  • The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant, read by Linda Lavin. It is 1985 and 85 year old Addie Baum is telling her granddaughter what it was like growing up as a Jewish girl in turn of the century Boston. You feel like you’re sitting with a really cool elderly woman who is telling you the story of her life.
  • City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, read by Blair Brown (this one is a little long at 15 hours, but so, so immersive and good). Just like with The Boston Girl, you feel like a really cool elderly woman is telling you the story of her amazing life. In this case, the story starts with Vivian as a young woman working backstage on Broadway during World War II.
  • Perfect Little Children by Sophie Hannah [UK title: Haven’t They Grown], read by Laura Kirman. Great weird little mystery. One day while driving her son to soccer practice, Beth spies her former best friend Flora whom she hasn’t seen in 12 years. The only thing is, although Flora looks 12 years older, her children have not aged at all.

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:04 PM on November 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Will Patton is my go-to narrator. My favorites by him:

Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son and Train Dreams, available as one purchase. Jesus' Son fits your requirements, but it is a series of stories and not a novel -- but all the stories are from the same character. Train Dreams is superb but is third person. No exageration, I have listened to these two more than 10 times.

James Dickey's Deliverance (Audible only, unfortunately).

Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke is much longer than you'd like but I'm still gonna recommend it, though I wouldn't do it before the other two.

Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons, though it's 15 hours. There is an abridged version, but I haven't listened to it so can't say if it's as good as the legit version.

Patton is probably best known as the narrator of choice for Stephen King and James Lee Burke. I haven't listened to the King ones, but the Burke ones are excellent if you're into that writer. For example Robicheaux (from the Robicheaux series) or Wayfaring Stranger (from the Holland series -- link is to an abridged version of the book. Unabridged is also available but longer than you'd like).

Non-Patton stuff I liked that fits your requirements:

Richard Powers' Bewilderment

Otessa Moshfegh's Eileen.

Vonnegut's Mother Night

Daisy Johnson's Sisters

Sarah Moss's Ghost Wall

Martin Booth's The American

Samantha Schweblin's Fever Dream
posted by dobbs at 1:12 AM on November 15, 2021

Best answer: I came in here to mention both Circe and Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, which are excellent in audio and meet your other requirements, though they run about 12 hours.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:44 AM on November 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you can handle a little science fiction, we've been listening to Andy Weir's Project Hail Mary. The book is awesome, and the reader, Ray Porter, is phenomenal. Without spoilers, there are also some details in the plot that make audiobook the best medium for this story.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:29 AM on November 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Or for a little contemporary fantasy, with cops, in London: Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant books, read by the amazing Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:37 AM on November 15, 2021

Best answer: I want to add A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki to this list. Two alternating characters, both intertwined, both speaking in first person, both read by the author, and one of them is based on the author. One of my favorite audiobooks ever. Literary with a little magical realism.
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 9:36 AM on November 15, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the recommendations -- on sample, a bunch of these seem exactly up my alley, and I can't wait to get listening! (Any future responses still welcomed as well!)
posted by eponym at 1:10 PM on December 7, 2021

Best answer: Over the holidays I listened to Louise Erdrich’s newest, The Sentence. I adored it and it hits all your requirements. Louise Erdrich reads it herself and her narration is terrific, though I had to speed it up a little.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:33 AM on February 11, 2022

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