20 great audiobooks to get stuck into this summer, from recent award-winners to all-time classics

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Whether you’re crammed on a bus on the way to work or lounging with a cocktail by the pool, audiobooks are a perfect way to transport you to another place

Birnam Wood

By Eleanor Catton. Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld; 12hr 47min

When a landslide cuts off a large swathe of New Zealand countryside, an off-the-grid guerrilla gardening collective known as Birnam Wood hope to use it as an opportunity to plant crops on an abandoned farm. But an American billionaire also has his eyes on the property for something altogether more sinister. Eleanor Catton’s latest is that rare treat – a superbly written, page-turning thriller that doesn’t sacrifice character for plot.

The Shards

By Bret Easton Ellis. Narrated by the author; 23hr 3min

How can such an apathetic, misanthropic novel be so enjoyable? Filled with graphic sex and shocking violence, The Shards follows a young Bret Easton Ellis and his ultraprivileged Los Angeles classmates as they’re stalked by a serial killer known as the Trawler in the autumn of 1981. Imagine if Cruel Intentions were a 1980s slasher film and you’ll get a sense of the lurid, depraved fun on offer here.

My Father’s House

By Joseph O’Connor. Narrated by Barry Barnes, Stephen Hogan, Barnaby Edwards et al; 11hr 17min

Based on the incredible true story of Msgr Hugh O’Flaherty, an Irish priest in Vatican City who helped thousands of Jews and Allied prisoners during the Nazi occupation, My Father’s House is historical fiction at its finest. A thrilling, vivid story brought to life by a full cast, it leaves you in awe and grateful that such brave and decent people exist in the world.

The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family

By Joshua Cohen. Narrated by Joshua Cohen, David Duchovny and Ethan Herschenfeld; 8hr 31min

In 1959, Benzion Netanyahu (father of Binyamin) interviewed for a professorship at a small college in upstate New York. The Netanyahus is a fictionalised, and often hysterical, account of that visit. Part campus comedy, part Jewish history, it’s one of those books that leave you feeling about 10 per cent smarter for having listened.


Hello Beautiful

By Ann Napolitano. Narrated by Maura Tierney; 15hr 6min

The term “beach read” (or, in this case, “beach listen”) gets a bad rap. Beach reads don’t have to be forgettable fluff – some books just work better in the sun. Hello Beautiful is one such. Like a modern-day Little Women, it is the story of a lonely man marrying into a family of four sisters. Filled with love, heartbreak and tragedy, it’s the kind of story that stays with you, like the memory of an old holiday.

Old God’s Time

By Sebastian Barry. Narrated by Stephen Hogan; 8hr 34min

Does Sebastian Barry really get the credit he deserves? Sure, he gets a lot of credit. But is it enough? In Old God’s Time he proves once again he’s one of our greatest living authors. The story of a retired policeman living in isolation, asked to help with a decades-old cold case, it sublimely and sensitively explores our country’s shameful past.


By Kim Thúy. Narrated by the author; 2hr 59min

Here is an audiobook you’ll want to listen to twice. Shortlisted for this year’s Dublin Literary Award, it is a mesmerising exploration of Vietnam’s past, taking in everything from rubber plantations and the nail-salon industry to the massacre at My Lai and the evacuation of biracial babies from Saigon in 1975.


By Louise Kennedy. Narrated by Brid Brennan; 8hr 57min

From the opening scene (helped in no small part by Bríd Brennan’s wonderful narration) Trespasses pulls you helplessly in. Everything about it feels real; every little detail rings true. There is a tragic inevitability to the affair between a young teacher in a Catholic school and an older married Protestant man during the Troubles that will leave you an emotional wreck.

Lone Women

By Victor LaValle. Narrated by Joniece Abbott-Pratt; 9hr 11min

In 1915 Adelaide Henry makes her way towards Montana to avail of the government’s offer of free land for those who will cultivate it. She drags with her a big steamer trunk that she never opens, because when she does… bad things happen. A beguiling blend of western, horror and historical fiction.

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder

By David Grann. Narrated by Dion Graham; 8hr 28min

If you’ve a hankering for a bit of history, the latest from the author of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Lost City of Z is a gripping account of an 18th-century seafaring mystery. In 1740 a British vessel called the Wager left on a secret mission to chase down a Spanish galleon but was shipwrecked on a small island off the coast of Patagonia. The unravelling mystery of what actually happened makes for compulsive listening.

Small Mercies

By Dennis Lehane. Narrated by Regina Reagan; 9hr 6min

Dennis Lehane has always been a cut above most other crime writers, but even by his own high standards Small Mercies is extraordinary. Against the backdrop of the 1974 summer heatwave and simmering racial tensions, a working-class Boston mother searches for her missing daughter. Brilliant and devastating, it might just be Lehane’s best book yet. And the narration on this one is exceptional.

Demon Copperhead

By Barbara Kingsolver. Narrated by Charlie Thurston; 21hr 3min

Joint winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (along with Trust, by Hernan Diaz), Demon Copperhead is a loose retelling of David Copperfield, transposing the tale to the opioid-ridden mountains of southern Appalachia. Stephen King reckons storytelling doesn’t get much better than this.

You Could Make This Place Beautiful

By Maggie Smith. Narrated by the author; 7hr 48min

If you’ve not yet read the American writer Maggie Smith’s poem Good Bones, take a moment to look it up. And if you like it (you will) you’ll love this memoir, which takes its name from that very poem. Through her lyrical and thoughtful excavation of her marriage breaking down she does what all great poets do: helps us to understand our own lives a little better.

Politics: A Survivor’s Guide – How to Stay Engaged Without Getting Enraged

By Rafael Behr. Narrated by the author; 10hr 54min

Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of screaming at each other through a digital void, we actually considered each other’s point of view? This excellent new book by the political commentator Rafael Behr should be required listening not just for politicians but for everyone who is convinced their way is the right way. Being a little more reasonable shouldn’t be such a tall order.

I Have Some Questions for You

By Rebecca Makkai. Narrated by JD Jackson and Julia Whelan; 14hr 4min

When Bodie Kane, a film professor and podcaster, is invited to teach a course at her old New Hampshire boarding school, she becomes involved in a seemingly solved case of a murdered classmate. It sounds run of the mill, but I Have Some Questions for You is a sharp, literary thriller that holds a mirror up to our obsession with true crime, particularly that which involves the murder of women.

The Secret History

By Donna Tartt. Narrated by the author; 22hr 4min

You’ll probably need more campus crime in your life after listening to I Have Some Questions for You, and there’s really only one place to go. A book that gets better with each listen, The Secret History is a murder mystery where we find out who died and who killed them in the opening pages but finding out why is so much fun. Tartt’s narration, with her lilting Mississippi twang, is so relaxing you probably shouldn’t listen while driving or operating heavy machinery.

The Magic Faraway Tree

By Enid Blyton. Narrated by Kate Winslet; 3hr 46min

If you’re staring down the barrel of a long drive with a carful of kids this summer, you might be praying for a miracle. Some sort of divine intervention to keep them amused and distracted before the first “Are we there yet?” Help is at hand in the form of Kate Winslet reading the classic tale of three siblings who discover an enchanted wood beside their new home.


By George Orwell. Narrated by Andrew Wincott; 12hr 19min

If you’ve never read 1984, now is the time. Be warned, however: as brilliant as the book is (and as brilliantly narrated, by Andrew Wincott, as it is), it will leave you depressed for at least a week as all hope for humanity leaves your soul. Orwell describes with shocking prescience a grim, terrifying future – one we’re well on the way towards living. Chin up, eh?

War and Peace

By Leo Tolstoy. Narrated by Thandiwe Newton; 60hr 14min

Have you ever held the book War and Peace in your hands? It’s heavy. As in, it’s physically heavy. But it also looks heavy. You look at it in your hands and begin to doubt yourself. Do you really have the time, not to mention the concentration, to tackle this now? With everything you’ve got going on in your life? This is where audiobooks shine. Stick it on for your morning commute and in a month you’ll have one of the greatest books ever written lodged in your mind forever.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

By Anne Tyler. Narrated by Suzanne Toren; 13hr 15min

There’s never a bad time to revisit Anne Tyler, but rereading the old favourites in times of stress can be particularly rewarding. There’s a comforting familiarity to them (the trials and tribulations of a Baltimore family), but no two are the same. If you’ve never read (or listened to) her work, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is a perfect place to start.

Darragh Geraghty

Darragh Geraghty

Darragh Geraghty, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about lifestyle, health and culture