Hear this! The best audiobooks of 2019 – so far

From Elisabeth Moss revisiting The Handmaid’s Tale to banter from Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer, here are this year’s must-listens - and some of the best for children and young adults too

For adult listeners

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, read by Elisabeth Moss (Random House)

Moss, who does such a brilliant job portraying Atwood’s heroine Offred in the TV adaptation, dons the robe and bonnet once again to narrate this 1986 feminist classic. Her breathy but sharp delivery draws you into nightmarish Gilead from the get go.

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft, read by Clare Corbett (Audible)

Currently an Audible exclusive, this audiobook of the 2018 Man Booker International prize winner is read beautifully by Corbett, who captures the playfulness and grace of Tokarczuk’s writing across a range of stories about 21st-century travel and human anatomy.

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing by Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse, read by the authors (Blink)

Like Jaws, here’s a story that isn’t really about the fish. In the audiobook, Mortimer and Whitehouse natter on in the most enjoyable, natural way about mortality and friendship, with plenty of off-page asides and affectionate nitpicking.

Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered by Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff, read by the authors (Orion)

If you love the My Favourite Murder podcast and don’t mind missing out on the few pages of family and pet photos in the book, this is the option for you. (Though Audible does provide a bonus PDF.) This memoir-cum-life-guide from the two women is delivered with their trademark sass, some parts recorded in front of a live audience.

Gentleman Jack by Anne Choma and Sally Wainwright, read by Eva Pope and Erin Shanagher (Penguin)

This tie-in biography accompanies the rompy BBC drama about Anne Lister, a remarkable 19th-century figure who documented her life through prolific diaries and fearlessly explored her lesbian sexuality. The audiobook includes unpublished journal extracts decrypted from Lister’s code for the first time by Choma and Wainwright, the creator of the BBC series.

Lanny by Max Porter, read by Annie Aldington, Clare Corbett, David Timson and Jot Davies (Faber)

The chorus of voices at the heart of this beguiling and strange book, ostensibly about the disappearance of a small boy from a commuter village, are brilliantly brought to life by this cast. On the page, Porter shows his cacophony of voices through experimental typography; if you think you might struggle with that, this audiobook is for you.

Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen, read by the author (Audible)

This memoir is currently an audiobook – and Audible – exclusive, with a print version to follow in August. Exhausted by his career as a journalist, Jensen decided to focus on reporting cold cases – then began solving them himself. His accounts of his cases and his methodology are utterly fascinating. One for any true crime fan.

Airhead by Emily Maitlis, read by the author (Penguin Books)

The Newsnight presenter reads her memoirs with her usual dignified delivery, but with just enough emotion to make this worth downloading. Her amusing, internal asides during interviews with Simon Cowell and Bill Clinton have something wonderfully gossipy about them.

A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man by James Joyce, read by Colin Farrell (Audible)

Some have argued that Joyce is best enjoyed read aloud; and Farrell shows off his acting chops in this new interpretation, his lilting tones suiting the musicality of Joyce’s writing perfectly.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, read by Weruche Opia (Whole Story Books)

Shortlisted for this year’s Women’s prize for fiction, this darkly funny tale, about a young woman dealing with her sister Ayoola’s taste for murdering boyfriends is sharp as nails. Opia’s performance is light and fresh, her handling of Braithwaite’s comic dialogue particularly vibrant.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, read by author and cast (BBC)

This abridged dramatisation of Moran’s bestselling book about her feminist education is read by a full BBC Radio 4 cast, with scenes from her life acted out with verve. Still extremely funny, and made even more lively by the cast.

And some for little ears …

How to Train Your Dragon and sequels by Cressida Cowell, read by David Tennant (Hodder Children’s)

The adventures of unlikely hero Hiccup, his fellow young Vikings in training and his dragon Toothless, could not be better voiced than by Tennant, enjoying every moment and evoking every stink, splash, mishap and calamity with relish.

Murder Most Unladylike and sequels by Robin Stevens, read by Gemma Chan (Penguin)

Gemma Chan’s assured reading invites the listener to 1930s England, where indomitable schoolgirl detectives Wells and Wong investigate the mysterious death of Miss Bell at Deepdean School for Girls.

The Complete Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis, read by Maurice Denham (BBC)
A handsome full-cast production, adapted slightly from the books so that the actors carry more of the story. Perfect for whiling away long journeys or for putting on at bedtime, transporting its listeners effortlessly to Narnia.

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson, read by Penelope Rawlins (Whole Story)
Ibbotson’s immersive, beautiful tale of orphaned Maya, sent to live with relatives hundreds of miles up the Amazon, is voiced with impressive range by Rawlins, evoking both the lush, colourful richness of the rainforest and the compelling awfulness of Maya’s cousins.

Skulduggery Pleasant and sequels by Derek Landy, read by Rupert Degas (HarperAudio)
Conspiratorial and atmospheric, Degas’s reading brings out the humour and the horror in the perilous adventures of skeletal detective Skul­dug­gery and his youthful associate Stephanie, aka Valkyrie, on their quest to preserve the world from the forces of evil and find justice for Stephanie’s murdered uncle.

… and young adults


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, read by Bahni Turpin (HarperAudio)
Thomas’ award-winning 2017 debut follows 16-year-old Starr as she moves between the disparate worlds of home and school, and tries to come to terms with her friend’s death. It is voiced with great verve by Bahni Turpin.

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, read by Michael Sheen (Random House)
This atmospheric, enthralling return to the world of His Dark Materials, full of swollen floodwaters and desperate pursuit, is brought to thrilling life by Michael Sheen, whose howling hyena daemon is particularly terrifying. Winner of the British book awards’ audiobook of the year 2018.

The Gifted, the Talented and Me by William Sutcliffe, read by Ryan Watson (Audible)
Ryan Watson brings a down-to-earth, gleefully comic sensibility to his performance as resolutely normal Sam, abruptly plonked into the North London Academy for the Gifted and Talented, and forced to commune with his artistic side instead of playing football. Gently dysfunctional, highly entertaining.

Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence, read by Ben Bailey Smith (Hodder Children’s)
After a date ends in tragedy, Marlon finds himself drawn into gang culture despite his best intentions. Can he break free? Lawrence’s fast-paced, tense debut novel, which won the YA book prize in 2017, is read with wit, warmth and panache by Ben Bailey Smith, AKA rapper Doc Brown.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, read by Emilia Fox (Macmillan Digital)
The elegantly strange landscape of Hardinge’s Costa-winner, with its stifling Victorian conventions, its scientifically-minded heroine, and weird vine that tells truth when fed with lies, is perfectly suited to Fox’s crisp, vivid diction, which brings out the sense both of threatening repression and of secrets bubbling under the surface.

Contributors

Sian Cain and Imogen Russell Williams

The GuardianTramp

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