Talented audiobook narrators coupled with great writing produce special experiences. Here are the best audiobooks of the decade, if not best audiobooks of all time! Well, at least they are the ‘best audiobooks ever’ amongst those I have listened to anyway.
I have experienced some wonderful pairings of book and audio narrator, across a broad range of genre:
- Drama & Romance Fiction
- Crime Fiction and Thrillers
- Historical Fiction & Classic Novels
- Contemporary Literature & Essay
- Fantasy & Adventure Novels
In this list, I bring together my all-time favourites and many of these likely rank amongst the best fiction audiobooks of all time. Some were bestselling novels, others under-appreciated books brought to life by the best audiobook narrators in the business. There truly is something for everybody’s reading and listening appetite!
Clicking on the audiobook covers or title text links will open our detailed review of each title, incl. publisher book synopsis, book quotes and most importantly, links to audio samples. The key to picking a good audiobook for you is listening carefully to the audio samples provided. Some voices will work for you, others will not – it is a very personal thing.
Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
Our 27 Best Audiobooks of the Decade – Narrators Worth Listening To
Best Romance Audiobooks
It was very hard to choose my favourite listening experiences in this genre, because romantic fiction is so well suited to the audiobook format. Jenny T Colgan’s under-appreciated sci-fi romantic comedy Resistance is Futile narrated by Lucy Price-Lewis is a clear stand out though. Orbit’s press release description was, “Bridget Jones meets The Big Bang Theory meets Independence Day”. I would happily second that and add, “with a Goonies / Stranger Things vibe”. I just loved this audiobook’s rebellious geeky tone.
It is hard not to love romantic audiobooks featuring quirky fish-out-of-water protagonists. But it is those stories where the author (and/or audiobook narrator) plumbs unexpected depths that live longest in my memory. Catherine McCarron’s award-winning, earnest and moving performance of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine‘s first-person narrative, is particularly memorable. Definitely one of my best audiobooks ever…
As is Dan O’Grady’s audio narration of Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project.
He beautifully captured lead character Don Tillman’s guilelessness and enthusiastic pursuit for happiness, alongside his feelings of insecurity and frustration when trying to negotiate the minefield of social interaction.
In The One Plus One Jojo Moyes does ‘romance in the real world’. She understands life is complicated and never involves just two characters, it’s about ensembles. And how can you improve upon a wonderful fictional character ensemble?… Have their story performed by a talented ensemble cast — Each owns and enhances the delivery of the alternating character viewpoints, presenting different perspectives on the same events and propelling the story onward.
Has a book ever made you literally laugh and cry at the same time? David Nicholl’s One Day did that to me… I was an absolute mess sitting in my car listening to this romantic audiobook in peak hour traffic. The narration by Anna Bentinck was just brilliant — far, far better than the feature film.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is uplifting and rewarding literary romantic fiction. Audiobook narrator Bill Wallis‘ calming and measured delivery is a pleasure to listen to, seamlessly shifting between the gravelly voice of the Major, the sotto voce of Mrs Ali and the easily distinguishable ensemble cast of family and villagers. A beautiful love story for all ages to get swept up in.
Best Crime & Thriller Audiobooks
Psychological thriller novel often make good audiobooks. When it comes to novels whose focus is criminal psychology you do not get much more unnerving than Denise Mina’s The Long Drop. Narrator David Monteath’s nuanced differentiation between character accents and phrasing adds to the experience – a very well-paced delivery of deeply unsettling subject matter.
In Talking to the Dead Harry Bingham introduces female police detective Fiona Griffiths. In addition to her daily battle with inner demons daily, her social ineptness combined with maverick nature make for a very entertaining lead. Narrator Siriol Jenkins’ elocution is first-class – crisp, clear and effortless to listen to. Her portrayal of Fiona is fabulous; her quirky mental agility, no-nonsense approach and stinging sarcasm perfectly timed.
I cannot recommend Gerard Doyle’s narration of Adrian McKinty’s award-winning Detective Sean Duffy Series more highly. I started with Book 3 In the Morning I’ll Be Gone. Doyle really brings Sean Duffy to life. His Irish brogue and delivery of the deadpan humour and irony peppered throughout this novel, making this a truly addictive listening experience. Warning: do not embark on this audiobook when you are required to be sociable!
Robert Wilson’s The Ignorance of Blood is a gritty, high octane crime thriller with a labyrinthine plot set in Spain. Audiobook narrator Sean Barrett, with his husky, gravelly voice does a wonderful job of conveying the world-weary but dedicated Inspector Jefe Javier, a complex and compelling character that carries a large burden.
Great dialogue is another key ingredient in good audiobooks. The world-wise, snappy dialogue in Malla Nunn’s Present Darkness, no holes barred action and uncensored brutality in its historical Johannesburg setting, places it squarely in the category of ‘page-turner’. And Rupert Degas’ narration just takes it up another notch. His differentiation between the varied characters – age, ethnicity and attitude – and timing and nuance, made it compulsive listening.
Historical Fiction & Mystery Books in Audio
Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden is captivating and atmospheric historical fiction. A story of secrets, family and memory that I highly recommend in audiobook. Caroline Lee’s audio narration is understated and lets the story itself shine. I found the transitions back and forth between historical time periods, locations and voices easy to follow and helped in large part by Lee’s skilful character differentiation.
I listened to Daphne Du Maurier’s gothic classic Rebecca in audio and was mesmerised from the haunting opening sentence… Du Maurier’s enduring classic has a wonderful sense of grandness about it, but also menace and foreboding. Narrator Anna Massey performs this story with such poise – her British accent pitch-perfect. And, for a story told mostly in reflection, Massey does extremely well to carry Du Maurier’s intended suspense through the entire 14+ hours.
In Gillespie and I, Jane Harris has crafted an immensely engaging tale filled with a cast of eccentric characters and enough red herrings to sink a ship. Another superb audiobook performance by Anna Bentinck (see David Nicholls’ One Day above) heightened the tension between listener and unreliable narrator to great effect.
Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh’s first novel has only increased in potency since it was published in 1928. Audiobook narrator Michael Maloney’s measured and well-timed delivery of Waugh’s deadpan satire and black humour kept me on the edge of my seat. Maloney’s performance of the many and varied British accents (in particular the Welsh) had me in stitches as I drove along listening in my car.
When it comes to listening to the classics in audiobook, there are few more engaging than the plays of Oscar Wilde. In The Canterville Ghost, with modern prose and themes, and characters like caricatures, Wilde lampoons traditional ghost stories. Rupert Degas’ narration of The Canterville Ghost audiobook is first class. The deadpan and quizzical tone of his delivery enhances the intended sarcasm of the text.
In The Importance of Being Earnest Oscar Wilde turns the absurd and farcical into sheer brilliance. The audio dramatization I listened to was performed by a very talented cast from L.A. Theatre Works: James Marsters, Charles Busch, Emily Bergl, Neil Dickson, Jill Gascoine, Christopher Neame and Matthew Wolf. The rapid-fire banter between the characters was hilarious. At just under 2 hours in length, this audiobook was a real treat that left a big smile on my face.
Favourite Literary Fiction & Essays in Audio
Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry From Kensington is a true literary delight – hilarious, witty, and oozing with ‘real’ class. The audiobook version I listened to narrated by Pamela Garelick is an example of the magic that can happen when a book is matched with the perfect narrator. She performs the considered, darkly satirical and strident voice of Mrs Hawkins with aplomb.
Yann Martel’s award-winning Life of Pi is a very clever story. The audiobook version I became engrossed in was narrated by Jeff Woodman. His delivery really brought to life the humour and irony the protagonist manages to find in his dire predicament. The latest Audible edition of this audiobook is narrated by British comedian, actor and broadcaster Sanjeev Bhaskar.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is a modern masterpiece that deserves to become a classic — his prose and characterisation exquisite and Edoardo Ballerini’s narration of the audiobook captivating.
Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son is one of the most intelligent and thought-provoking novels I have read. The audiobook version is narrated by a talented cast, the author himself along with Tim Kang, Josiah D Lee and James Kyson Lee, was a joy to listen to. For me, the timing and accents of the cast and matter of fact delivery of dark humour really enhanced the story experience.
David Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls is the perfect audiobook to get you through your daily commute. Narrated by Sedaris himself, his deadpan narration adds to the humour but by far his best delivery and timing was on display in those chapters that were recordings of his performances in front of a live audience.
Best Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy Audiobooks
Matthew Reilly is a consummate teller of tall tales, rather than a writer of literary prose. His books are just pure and simple entertainment, and I need a dose of silliness and outlandish adventure in my reading sometimes. And in this Captain Schofield title he includes a robot sidekick! Scarecrow and The Army of Thieves audiobook narrator Sean Mangan has the perfect voice for Matthew Reilly’s action-adventure novels. His vocalisation of the gun noises always make me smile.
Filled with unforgettable characters and touching friendships, Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass (aka Northern Lights) is a must read/listen for all ages. A very talented ensemble cast of audiobook narrators including the author and some of my favourites such as Rupert Degas and Sean Barrett, combine together beautifully to bring this wonderful story to life.
Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook is an outlandish sci-fi adventure story with a healthy dose of heart and intelligent humour. A fabulous title for the audiobook format, both because of its engaging first-person narrative and a very strong performance by British actress Katy Carmichael who really brought the quirky lead character(s) to life.
Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of the most enjoyable audiobooks I have ever listened to. Her prose and complex plot lines are delivered seemingly effortlessly in this sci fi oozing intelligence, wit and class. Narrator Steven Crossley then takes Willis’ wonderful novel to another level in audio with his perfect comedic timing and colourful characterisation.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency contains Douglas Adam’s trademark offbeat and fantastical elements (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) but its driving force is a much more mature and intelligent brand of humour.
The dialogue in this novel is top-shelf and my enjoyment of it only enhanced by the fantastic comedic timing of the BBC Audiobook cast including Billy Boyd and Olivia Coleman.
What do you think of our audiobook recommendations?
They span favourites over more than a decade. How many have you listened to?
Do you have a favourite audiobook narrator?
Tell us in the comments below, which audiobook titles and narrators you consider “must-listens”.