14 introspective literary fiction books that are excellent on audio

14 introspective literary fiction books that are excellent on audio

Readers, there is always something new to discover about your reading life—whether you’ve been reading for five years or fifty! My best advice for making those discoveries is to track your reading—because logging your books helps you notice patterns you’d otherwise miss.

In the last year or so, tracking my books has taught me a lot about my audiobook listening style: I love compelling stories, simple-but-stylish prose, and a narrator who brings it all to life. My journal helped me see that I’ve been listening to a lot of quiet, introspective literary fiction lately, and that I tend to enjoy that style of book on audio.

My recent reads feature first-person narration, weighty themes, and strong narrative style. The narrators not only bring each story to life—they also take reflective, slower moments and make them memorable. It’s almost like listening to a page-turning memoir. (Sometimes I have to remind myself I’m listening to fiction!)

One literary novel that I loved on audio is our April book club selection, Writers & Lovers by Lily King. We’d love for you to read along with us this month and join us for an author chat with Lily King on April 29th at 7 pm EST. When you join the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club, you also get access to all of the past author chats in our video library.

I’ve collected a few more of my favorite introspective literary audiobooks in today’s list. Incredible narrators bring complicated characters to life and emphasize the authors’ brilliant prose. I hope you find a book on this list to entertain you while folding laundry, doing the dishes, or taking an afternoon stroll.

14 fiction audiobooks that read like memoir

Rules of Civility

Rules of Civility

Author:
I'v reread this book several times, and it's always every bit as good as I remembered. In his debut, Towles plunges you into the streets of the glittering streets of Manhattan, circa 1938, and into a circle of unlikely friends whose lives turn on one impulsive decision. I love the craft here: Towles sets his scenes so well, and the opening and closing scenes frame the story beautifully. This Gatsby-esque novel keeps surprises with shocking plot twists, including the unforgettable ending. Narrated in the first person, this compulsively readable literary novel is excellent on audio, thanks to a great performance by Rebecca Lowman and Towles's talent for description. More info →
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Housekeeping

Housekeeping

Robinson's debut tells the tale of two orphaned sisters in Fingerbone, Idaho, struggling to find their place in the community and with each other after their mother's death. They're cared for by a string of relatives before their eccentric Aunt Sylvie steps in, and comes to "keep house" for them. But Sylvie's odd ways disturb the staid members of their little town, and the misunderstanding threatens the little family's stability. I listened to the newly released 40th anniversary edition, narrated by one of my own favorite narrators, Therese Plummer. More info →
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My Name Is Lucy Barton

My Name Is Lucy Barton

This was my first novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout, and I've kept an eye out for her work ever since. This is a short, almost poetic, work—barely more than 200 pages—but Strout covers a lot of ground, from the perspective of a woman who's reflecting back on the time she spent in a NYC hospital in the 1980s: poverty, the AIDS epidemic, art and artists, and especially, the relationship between mothers and daughters. You could listen to this in an afternoon. There are two audio versions to choose from, the novel narrated by Kimberly Farr or the dramatic (and abridged) production narrated by Laura Linney. More info →
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Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go

Author:
Ishiguro expertly combines speculative fiction and literary fiction to great effect. I talked about my love for this one in Volume III of One Great Book . Haunting and atmospheric, with a sad truth that dawns on you gradually. Ishiguro slowly introduces the reader to three teens in a 1990s British boarding school, but we see everything from the narrator Kathy's perspective. His prose says so much while revealing so little, as it slowly dawns on the reader what is not-quite-right about these children's lives. The audiobook, a great choice for rereading this masterpiece, is narrated by Rosalyn Landor. More info →
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Stay with Me

Stay with Me

Author:
A powerful, emotional story about love, family, and fidelity set against the backdrop of the turbulent political climate of 1985-2008 Nigeria. The story begins with Yejide's mother-in-law arrives at her door with a guest in tow: her husband's second wife, that she didn't know he'd married. What follows is an unforgettable novel about sacrifice that sticks with me to this day. Adjoa Andoh perfectly gives voice to the characters; her narration adds to the compulsively readable nature of this literary fiction debut. More info →
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The Dutch House: A Novel

The Dutch House: A Novel

Author:
I love sibling stories and meaty family sagas, as well as stories told with a reflective, wistful tone. This one delivers on all counts. Cyril Conroy means to surprise his wife with the Dutch House, a grand old mansion outside of Philadelphia. But a symbol of wealth and success for some is a symbol of greed and excess to others—including, crucially, Cyril's wife—and the family falls apart over the purchase. In alternating timelines, we get the whole story, over five decades, from Cyril's son Danny. Audiophile alert: the audio is narrated by Tom Hanks. (And if you want to hear the incredible story of how Kate DiCamillo wrote the perfect final paragraph without reading the book, you must listen to this episode of What Should I Read Next!) More info →
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Nothing to See Here

Nothing to See Here

Author:
Kevin Wilson's latest novel is about an important political family that has a tiny little problem—their kids catch fire when they get mad. It's the perfect blend of the very real emotional family and the bizarre, which lets the author address serious things—life, work, power, ambition, relationships—without getting precious about it. I recommended it on episode 201 of What Should I Read Next of WSIRN, and I've heard from many readers who've loved it since. I enjoyed the audiobook; Marin Ireland hit just the right notes with her narration. More info →
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Writers & Lovers

Writers & Lovers

Author:
Our April MMD Book Club selection. This much-anticipated follow-up to King’s award-winning 2014 novel Euphoria follows Casey Peabody, who is mourning the sudden death of her mother plus a messy break-up in 1997 Massachusetts. Lost without direction, 31-year-old Casey waits tables to make ends meet while she works on her novel in a tiny, dingy rented room. While her friends have given up on their artistic ambitions in favor of stability and the next phase of life, Casey still harbors creative dreams and firmly grasps her youth. When she finds herself in the middle of a love triangle, it becomes all the more difficult to balance her art with "real life," and she just might reach her breaking point. This book was slow to hook me, but once I was in, I was IN. It has one of the most satisfying endings I've read in ages, and the introspective-yet-observant tone is lovely. I re-read this (on audio the second time, narrated by Stacey Glemboski), and loved it so much, again. More info →
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Hieroglyphics

Hieroglyphics

Author:
I've kept an eye on McCorkle's work since enjoying her previous novel Life After Life; astute readers will spy a connection between the two works, though it's not necessary to read them in order. Frank and Lil are in their eighties, retired and recently relocated back to North Carolina, both looking back on the life they know they'll be leaving soon. As Lil compiles mementos of the past and writes letters for her daughter to have once she's gone, she's drawn to reflect on sobering events that happened decades ago—scenes from her childhood, her courtship, and earlier in her marriage. Frank is a retired teacher who's at a loss without his students, and is now single-mindedly focused on his childhood and the home he grew up in. That home connects the two to Shelly, a courtroom reporter in the midst of a gruesome trial, and who has a tortured past of her own. McCorkle's evocative prose is wonderful—if heart-wrenching—on audio, narrated by Kimberly Farr and Xe Sands. More info →
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Actress

Actress

Author:
This reflective and often pained retrospective examines a complex mother-daughter relationship. Daughter Norah's musings are prompted by a graduate student who comes calling, seeking insight into the life of her mother, the brilliant Irish actress Katherine O'Dell. The style is almost—but not quite—stream of consciousness, as Norah examines her mother's early years as an actress, her sudden and enduring fame, and then her encroaching mental illness. I loved this book for its voice: Norah is a remarkable narrator of her mother's story, and I loved the sly way she lets her own story slip into the frame. Anne Enright is equally remarkable: very few novelists narrate their own audiobooks, but Enright reads hers here in an incredible performance. More info →
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Before the Ever After

Before the Ever After

Black preteen ZJ has always had a strong relationship with his father, a football star who's a living legend and fan favorite. But ZJ and his mom have been struggling lately, trying to make sense of his dad's increasingly erratic behavior. The doctors suspect the many concussions he's suffered over the years are the culprit, but they don't know what to do about it. Woodson doesn't sugarcoat the suffering, but a drumbeat of hope and resilience anchors ZJ's story. I listened to the audiobook narration by Guy Lockard: the story was AMAZING in his voice, and delivered a wholly satisfying story for middle grade readers and literary fiction fans alike. More info →
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Transcendent Kingdom

Transcendent Kingdom

Author:
Homegoing author Gyasi delivers another powerful family story about grief, faith, and the power of human connection. This one is quiet, introspective, and wonderfully narrated by one of my favorites: Bahni Turpin. Gifty studies neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine, with a focus on depression and addiction. It’s no coincidence that she’s chosen to study illnesses that impact those she loves most. Her brother, a gifted student and athlete, died of a heroin overdose after a devastating knee injury. Her mother stays in bed, battling depression and grief. As Gifty leans on her work to help her understand her family, she longs for understanding, and faith. Piercingly sad, but ultimately hopeful. More info →
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The Yield

The Yield

Author:
Originally published in Australia, Tara June Winch's latest novel weaves together three strands: the first focuses on Gus, who returns home after learning of her grandfather's death and finds herself with mixed feelings about her homecoming as a huge mine threatens to destroy her family's land. The next is a hundred-year-old letter from the reverend who founded a mission for the Wiradjuri people. And finally, beautiful stories from Gus's grandfather, whose life mission was to compile a dictionary of his native language, filled with words, stories, personal history, and more. Winch brings it all together with gorgeous prose; Australian actor Tony Briggs brings the story to life. More info →
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The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

Author:
I recommended this fabulous short story collection to Nadia Odunayo in WSIRN Ep. 271: Because sometimes a 4.5 star rating feels right. Some stories in this collection are quick five page reads, and others are closer to 40 pages—all of them make you feel like you're right there in the main character's life. These stories are about love, sex, relationships, work, mistakes and successes. Each story explores the unique predicament of one character, but they flow seamlessly from one woman's life to another, thanks to Philyaw's evocative prose and rich detail. I read my favorite story “How to Make Love to a Physicist” twice through (on paper) because I loved it so much. I've been meaning to reread this collection via audiobook, narrated by Janina Edwards. More info →
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Is introspective literary fiction in your audiobook repertoire? Tell us about your favorite listening experiences in the comments.

P.S. I created a reading journal, and while it’s not out till September 2021, I hope you’ll find it worth the wait!

P.P.S. These were my favorite audiobook listening experiences of 2020, and these are 40 all-time favorite audiobooks (yours and mine).

14 introspective literary fiction books that are excellent on audio

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31 comments | Comment

31 comments

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  1. Adrienne says:

    Dare I say that some books are better on audio than in print? I particularly audiobooks with a cast of performers, like ‘Daisy Jones & The Six’. Right now I’m enjoying listening to ‘The Dutch House,’ which I read as a print book last year. I just joined a book club (yay!) and this is our selection for April, so I decided to go with the audiobook instead of re-reading the print version. Tom Hanks is a fabulous narrator. When I started the audiobook, I had mistakenly set the play speed to 2.25x and he sounded like a chipmunk, haha!
    Happy Reading!

    • Danielle says:

      If you’re looking for great ones with casts, I cannot recommend Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys enough! It is truly amazing and the cast reading (I think) made it possibly even more enjoyable than print reading!

      • Adrienne says:

        Danielle – Thanks for the recommendation! I’ve heard great things about this book but have not read it. I’ll check out the audiobook.

    • Jill says:

      I could not agree with you more! I definitely think some books are better on audio than in print. I started reading the print-version of “Daisy Jones..” and had to put it down but I looooved the audio book. Felt like it was a performance. Just loved it. Also loved Dutch House on audio and one of her earlier books, Commonwealth on audio as well. I would add The Girl with the Louding Voice as a great audio listen as well (I think it could be introspective fiction). I will say, I did listen to Housekeeping on Anne’s rec and it was a little too slow moving. Really enjoyed Transcendent Kingdom on audio. Will definitely try many of these on audio!

  2. Angelique says:

    I can now say that Introspective Literary Fiction is one of my favourite genres. Loved so many of these titles – thank you for adding to my library reserve list!

  3. Melanie says:

    Another great list Anne! I’ve been meaning to read/listen to The Rules of Civility after listening to A Gentleman in Moscow. Many on this list will now reside, temporarily , on my TBR list. A few I’ve read already. I’m most interested in your naming of this style, “Introspective Literary Fiction “, that seems perfect for these and maybe Anxious People or Olive , Olive, Again? I’m curious to understand more about this classification, I’ll be reading or listening these titles to understand deeper what qualifies a book here instead of another genre. Introspection by the author AND the reader ? Can’t wait to explore more, thank you!

    • Alison P. says:

      It’s hard to read Rules of Civility after Gentleman in Moscow… it’s a lot of fun, as Anne describes, in a Gatsby-esque way, and the writing is beautiful. By the end, though, I had the strong sense that the narrator was a woman as imagined by a man. I think Towles should stick to writing male narrators. Still a fun story, but not as marvelous as Gentleman in Moscow.

      • Gretchen S. says:

        I’ve read Housekeeping twice, thinking I must be missing something since Gilead was so, so beautiful. But I can’t see it as anything but a horror story.

      • Suzy says:

        Agree with you on Gentleman! Actually I am at opposite ends, I Love love loved Gentleman, and I really hated Rules of Civility, (no, that’s not too strong a term!). The reading of Gentleman really MADE the book, I had a harder time with it in print, I tended to skip over paragraphs, but the audio version was exquisite in every word.

      • E. Johnson says:

        Interesting! “A Gentleman in Moscow” was a favorite, so I eagerly picked up “Rules of Civility”, and was so disappointed I didn’t finish. I found the characters tedious.

  4. Brittany says:

    This might be my favorite list yet that you’ve curated! I have a lot of these on my TBR list, but I’ll definitely make sure to listen to the audio versions.

    My personal favorite book to listen to instead of read is a middle grade historical fiction novel, Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. It’s a story that intertwines three separate narratives. Each main character has a love for music. There are musicians playing all of the pieces mentioned throughout the story. They talk about a number of famous composers and their works, so it is very exciting to hear them as you are reading.

    I wrote a post about it recently on our children’s book blog: https://themiraculousjourneyofbooks.com/book/echo-by-pam-munoz-ryan/

    • KTC says:

      Curious what you mean by this. Authors who are Christian or authors who write books with Christian themes / characters…? or Christian Fiction? I have accidentally read Christian Fiction and even though I am Christian it is not a genre that I enjoy. However, if you want a list of Christian themes / characters, here are a few off the top of my head that are Christian but still for a broad audience (i.e. not “Christian fiction”):
      – Celia Garth by Gwen Bristow – there are some bible verses mentioned as part of the plot and the romance is chaste; this historical novel is set in Charleston during the Revolutionary War and would be appropriate for teens. It is not overtly Christian and would appeal to a broad audience.
      – Gilead by Marilynn Robinson (all of hers)
      – Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
      – Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
      – A Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle
      – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
      – The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
      – almost anything by Louisa May Alcott or L.M. Montgomery
      – poetry by Mary Oliver
      – and of course the Narnia series

      These ones are more literary / challenging:
      – Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
      – The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (or Crime and Punishment or The Idiot)
      – Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
      – Flannery O’Connor stories

      This last one is more overtly Christian, but I think it a very interesting allegory / fairy tale:
      The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

  5. Laura says:

    Great list! This is my favorite style, but I’ve never been sure how to describe it! I like the term “introspective.” The Dutch House and Writers & Lovers are two favorites in print. I don’t do much re-reading, but I’m tempted to try those via audio. I’ve added several of these to my TBR and bumped up long-awaiting titles like Rules of Civility. On audio I really enjoyed Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng and The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali.

  6. Stephane says:

    I’ve been obsessed with audiobooks lately, and I will check the ones from this list for sure. One that I’ve listened recently and loved was A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. The story is incredible, but I feel like if I’ve read the book, I would haven’t loved it as much as with the audiobook. The narration and everything was perfect!

  7. Alison P. says:

    Love these titles and this category label! Thanks for sharing. I just listened to Donna Tartt read her own novel, The Secret History, which was a stunning experience, and I think would be a great addition to this list!

  8. Christine White says:

    This list comes at the perfect time for me. I have hit a wall in choosing my next listen – I have never abandoned so many audiobooks! It’s not my style to do so. I will generally give the story & narrator plenty of time to win me over – which almost always leads to me finishing the book (happily!).
    I’m really interested in this category you are calling “Introspective Literary Fiction” and would really appreciate a post addressing the different styles and the descriptions of categories/genres. I will admit to overlooking a book due to its being listed in a category that I usually am not interested in. (Is that considered book discrimination???)

  9. Elizabeth says:

    The Dutch House and Transcendent Kingdom were both beautifully read. Two others that I have enjoyed that might fit the “introspective” category are William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace read by Rich Orlow, and Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow read by Paul Michael. These narrations of both of these books were perfect.

  10. Heather says:

    Thanks so much for this list! I just listened to Snow Child, based on one of your previous audio book lists and just loved it. I also listened to Endurance, based on that same list, which is totally outside my wheelhouse, and I was so immersed in that story, so you are my go to for audio book recommendations for sure!

    Now I’m listening to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Gathering Moss, which is a peaceful listen. I loved Braiding Sweetgrass on audio as well.

    • Anne says:

      I just finished listening to the Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. It was so beautifully read that I hated to see it end. Thank you for all the wonderful recommendations that keep me listening and walking.

  11. Anne Weiland says:

    Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier fits pretty well on this list. Written in first person by an unnamed character, it is full of inner dialog, perception and misperception.

  12. Suzy says:

    Besides my all time favorites of Gentleman in Moscow and A Man Called Ove, I have to add Peace Like a River, The Secret Life of Bees, and The Help! Perfect, perfect, perfect. Plus, as always, all the Dick Francis’.

  13. Maureen says:

    I read Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney a few years ago and loved it but recently I couldn’t resist a sale of the audiobook and I’m so glad I listened!! I loved it even more. The narrator is Xe Sands and she is absolutely perfect as Lillian’s voice!

  14. Linda says:

    My latest book on audio was Native Son by Richard Wright, narrated by Peter Frances James. His baritone added to my enjoyment of this timely memoir!

  15. Marie Braz says:

    I’ve been listening to an audiobook every weekend, sometimes two, and I have yet to experience one that was not done well. Today I listened to the Silent Patient and finished Little Fires everywhere earlier this week. The latter was a treat because the narrator sounded like Reese Witherspoon.

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