≡ Menu

Books for Your Ears: Fiction Favorites

A few Fridays ago I introduced a miniseries featuring some of my favorite audiobooks. This week, I’ll be focusing on fiction. I’m so excited to share these picks with you!

Books for Your Ears - Fiction

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (narrated by Barbara Rosenblat and Cassandra Morris)

Of course, I must start with the audiobook that got me hooked on listening to books. As I posted a few weeks back, I received a copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog audiobook at BEA a year and a half ago. It’s not a novel I would have gotten through in print; it’s too dense, too ponderous. Read aloud by a pair of talented narrators, however, the book quickly drew me in and became one of my favorites. I listened to The Elegance of the Hedgehog nearly in its entirety during a weekend-long road trip.

Set in France, the novel follows two characters who live in the same Parisian apartment building. Renee, the concierge (read by Rosenblat), keeps up the dull facade the building’s tenants expect from her so as not to arouse suspicion. But behind her closed door, Renee carries on a rich intellectual life. She loves opera, reads Tolstoy, and studies philosophy. Meanwhile, Paloma, the extraordinarily precocious twelve-year-old upstairs (read by Morris), has decided, based on observation of the people around her, that life is meaningless. She has given herself until her thirteenth birthday to find a reason to continue living; if she cannot, she is prepared to commit suicide. The voices of both characters are delightfully unique. It is a beautiful story with complicated characters, brought to life exquisitely by skilled readers.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (narrated by David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones)

I think that, by now, many people have read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. In print, it never interested me. But, as a bookseller a few years back, I felt like it was one of those books I should have read. I got the audiobook from the library and listened to it at the gym. As you may have guessed, seeing as it’s made my recommended fiction on audio list, I quite enjoyed it.

We meet Jacob Jankowski when he is in his 90s–he can’t remember exactly where–and living in a nursing home, an arrangement he hates. As he reflects on his life, he tells the story of his youth. A week before his final veterinary school exams at Cornell, when he was 21, his parents were killed in a car accident. When it came time to take the final, he couldn’t write a word. Instead, Jacob ran away and joined a traveling circus, using his veterinary skills to care for its animals. The world Jacob entered was dark, gritty, and dangerous, peopled with explosive personalities and shady characters. Except for Marlena–she was the bright spot in Jacob’s world.

The novel alternates between old Jacob (read by Jones) and young Jacob (read by LeDoux). The contrast between the two Jacobs was heightened, for me, by the two separate narrators: one slow and gravelly, the other young and energetic. I couldn’t wait to get back on the treadmill every evening to continue the story.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (narrated by Ron Perlman)

My brother isn’t a big reader. So when he told me he’d stayed up until 4 in the morning to finish City of Thieves, I paid attention. My library at the time offered the audiobook for download. I spent a day listening to it while cleaning and doing laundry, so enthralled by City of Thieves that I hardly minded my boring tasks.

Set during the Siege of Leningrad during World War II, the novel is told from the perspective of Lev Benioff, the author’s (fictional?) grandfather. Arrested for looting the corpse of a German soldier and for being out past curfew, Lev finds himself imprisoned with Kolya, who turns out to be quite a colorful character and a good foil to the more reserved Lev. They are brought before the Russian colonel, who takes their ration cards and gives them a task: they must procure a dozen eggs for colonel’s daughter’s wedding cake by the following week. Should they fail, they will either be killed by the colonel’s men or starve to death without their ration cards. What follows is their search for this precious commodity, which brings them face-to-face with unspeakable atrocities and unforgettable people.

Ron Perlman, the narrator, embodies Lev perfectly. It was like listening to Lev tell me his story, which is a characteristic I adore in an audiobook. Though the story spans only a few days, it packs enough nail-biting action to keep you listening.

Oryx and Crake (narrated by Campbell Scott) and The Year of the Flood (narrated by Bernadette Dunne, Katie MacNichol, and Mark Bramhall) by Margaret Atwood

I loved by Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. This pair of dystopian novels tell two sides to the same story: in the not-so-distant future, most of the human race has been wiped out by a deadly pandemic. Having survived somehow, the characters of both novels must learn to navigate the new landscape. Oryx and Crake follows Jimmy, while The Year of the Flood is told in alternating chapters by Ren and Toby.

Each novel spans only a brief time in each character’s present, instead allowing the story to unfold through flashbacks to their lives before the “waterless flood.” Through these flashbacks, each story on its own as well as the two books clicks into place in a masterfully coherent big picture. More than once I was struck with “Oh!” moments when tales aligned or some piece of the puzzle was casually revealed. The way the stories build on one other is fascinating to behold. Not to mention that Atwood’s fabricated future is, in my opinion, both creepy and well done.

It’s hard to explain much about either book’s plot without beginning to unravel the mystery. As the mystery unraveling was one of my favorite aspects of the story, I’ll direct you elsewhere for summaries, should you be interested. Here you go (titles link to GoodReads): summaries for Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood.

The readers for both books are fantastic. I can still hear them in my head; they became the voices of Atwood’s characters for me. My one complaint was the musical numbers in The Year of the Flood, supposedly sung by God’s Gardeners, a religious group to which Ren and Toby belonged. They just…didn’t seem to fit. (There’s a sample at the book’s website, if you’re curious!) Luckily, it was easy to just skip them, which I eventually started doing. Overall, I didn’t want to stop listening to either book, and I didn’t want either to end.

Your Turn!

Do you have a favorite fiction audiobook? How about a favorite novel you think would work well as an audiobook?

Worth sharing?
Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on FacebookShare on Google+Buffer this page

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://www.linussblanket.com Nicole

    I have both Oryx and Crake and The Year of Flood but I don’t think I knew they were connected in that way. I want to read then even more now. I love it when the same thing is explored from different perspectives.

    • Erin

      Ooh, definitely read Oryx and Crake, then The Year of the Flood for maximum enjoyment. I’d also recommend reading them close enough together that you remember the details of one as you start the next! Enjoy!

  • http://athomewithbooks.blogspot.com Alyce

    I agree that Water for Elephants was an excellent audiobook. I also enjoyed People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks and the Harry Potter books.

    • Tamera

      Jim Dale is the reader of the Harry Potter books and he is extraordinary! He also reads the Peter and the… books by Ridley Pearson, Dave Barry, and Greg Call. If you enjoy well done Young Adult/Children’s fiction, I’ve listened to the first of that series (Peter and the Starcatchers) and it is very good. It’s the story how Peter Pan became Pan and there is a girl that is very much the set up for his later endearment towards Wendy.

      • Erin

        I couldn’t get into the Harry Potter books. The narration was fantastic, but I just didn’t like having the HP books read aloud. Oftentimes, I don’t enjoy listening to a book I’ve already read, for some reason. The Peter and the… books sound like a lot of fun, though, so maybe I’ll try Jim Dale out that way!

    • Erin

      I tried to listen to People of the Book and ended up setting it aside. I liked the production but couldn’t get into it. I’ll have to try again when I’m in the right mood.

  • Tamera

    To use a cliche, for me Barbara Rosenblat could read the phonebook and I’d be entertained!

    • Erin

      Yes! I wish there was more out there she’d read! She and Neil Gaiman. Now THAT would be an audiobook!

  • http://zenleaf.amandagignac.com Amanda

    I wonder if I’d like Atwood better on audio…

    • Erin

      Of the four novels of hers I’ve read, I enjoyed the two I listened to (Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood) far more than the two I read (The Handmaid’s Tale and The Penelopiad). I’m not sure if it was the stories I preferred or the way I read/listened to them, but I do know I really enjoyed the audiobooks. It’d be worth a shot!

  • Lisa

    I have only listened to audiobooks that are short comedy essays (ala david Sedaris et. al). I have yet to jump to a full story-mostly because my mind wanders…but your reviews intrigue me..

    • Erin

      Ooh, I love David Sedaris! I just finished listening to my first of his audiobooks, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. His reading is perfect! For holding your attention, I’d suggest either City of Thieves or Water for Elephants. I do occasionally drift off when listening to audiobooks, but I remember being totally captivated by both of those.

  • http://lifewithbooks.com Jenners

    I’m just starting to get into audiobooks so this post is so timely for me. I’ve been wanting to read the Atwood books … maybe listening to it would be the best way to start. Thanks for this!

    • Erin

      She certainly seems to work well on audio! Starting out with Atwood while also starting out with audiobooks would be fun. I hope they work for you!

  • http://lakesidemusing.blogspot.com JoAnn

    Water for Elephants was a great audiobook! My favorite audio of 2009 was The Help, and this year I especially loved Let the Great World Spin.

    • Erin

      I read The Help, but I kind of wish I’d listened to it. I’ve heard the audiobook is amazing! I might listen to it anyway. I did really like the book.

      Let the Great World Spin has been on my TBR list forever. If you recommend the audiobook, I’ll definitely check it out–I tend to get to audiobooks much faster than print books. Thanks!

  • Pingback: Meal of Books: November 7, 2010 « Eat the Books!()

  • http://litandlife.blogspot.com Lisa

    All excellent books–glad to hear that the audio will not disappoint. If I ever do re-read, then audio it will be!

    • Erin

      I find listening to the audio of a book vs. reading it in print are often two completely different experiences. I’m not a big rereader, so it doesn’t come up often, though.

  • http://bonjourcass.com Cass

    I ALMOST downloaded The Elegance of the Hedgehog today but I passed it by for The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Since you loved Elegance so much, though, I’ll have to check it out when I’m finished with this one!

    • Erin

      Ooooh, I did love it! Barbara Rosenblat, especially, is just amazing. I hope you get to it soon and that you, too, adore it!