Imagine Meryl Streep keeping you company during the morning commute, or Colin Firth’s husky baritone lulling you off to sleep at night. How about Eddie Redmayne entertaining the family during fraught car journeys – or Emma Thompson cracking jokes while you do the washing up?
These encounters aren’t as far-fetched as they sound. Audiobooks are making it easy to get intimate with A-list actors, thanks to companies such as Amazon-owned Audible, which dominates the audiobook market, wooing Hollywood stars to record their favourite tales.
The flame-haired Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne brilliantly portrays kindly, scatter-brained ‘magizoologist’ Newt Scamander in the film of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, so there’s no better choice of narrator for J K Rowling’s original book
Big-name narrators are undoubtedly part of the reason why audiobooks are making a louder din than ever before. They are now the fastest-growing area of trade publishing, with sales upwards of £100 million – and publishers are reporting that the number of titles they are releasing has nearly tripled since 2011.
They may no longer be cheap, but some providers run complimentary trials. Audible offers 30 days free for new members; after that, you can get a book a month for £7.99. It’s also worth looking at deals from lesser-known players such as Kobo and Storytel.
Strap on your headphones and get listening to these star-studded renditions of classic reads.
La Belle Sauvage, The Book Of Dust, Volume 1
Read by Michael Sheen 13hrs 14mins
Philip Pullman read by Michael Sheen
The Welsh actor voices Philip Pullman’s long-awaited return to the world of His Dark Materials, which is set ten years before the events of Northern Lights. It charts 11-year-old Malcolm Polstead’s nail-biting adventure to protect baby Lyra in the midst of a contemporary apocalypse. Pullman’s novels are adored by adult and junior bookworms alike, so it’s a diplomatic choice for family car rides.
The Bridget Jones heartthrob is miles away from vapid romcoms in Graham Greene’s evocative post-war tale
The End Of The Affair
Read by Colin Firth 6hrs 28mins
The Bridget Jones heartthrob is miles away from vapid romcoms in Graham Greene’s evocative post-war tale of adultery and religion. Set in Clapham during the Blitz, the relationship between novelist Maurice Bendrix and his neighbour’s wife, Sarah, breaks off suddenly after a bomb blasts Bendrix’s flat. Two years later, Sarah’s husband, unaware of the affair, approaches Bendrix about his wife’s infidelity with another man.
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection
Arthur Conan Doyle
Read by Stephen Fry 71hrs 58mins
The former QI overlord proved his narrating prowess as the spirited voice of the Harry Potter audiobooks. So this lengthy collection of the complete works of Sherlock Holmes is in good hands. It comprises four novels and five collections of short stories, including The Hound Of The Baskervilles and The Sign Of Four. Fry, a Conan Doyle devotee, has even penned delightful new introductions to each title.
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
J K Rowling
Read by Eddie Redmayne 1hr 40mins
The flame-haired Oscar-winner brilliantly portrays kindly, scatter-brained ‘magizoologist’ Newt Scamander in the film of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, so there’s no better choice of narrator for J K Rowling’s original book. Wannabe wizards will relish hearing the Hogwarts-set textbook about magical beasts across the globe read aloud, as if they’re taking a real-life magic lesson.
A heart-warming canter through Black Beauty’s journey from a carefree colt to a weary cab horse in London
Read by Samantha Bond and others 4hrs 55mins
The Downton Abbey actress takes the reins of the enduringly popular family saga – along with Mr Selfridge’s Samuel West and Paul Thornley, who played Ron Weasley in the play Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. It’s a heart-warming canter through Black Beauty’s journey from a carefree colt to a weary cab horse in London.
Whether it’s down to his deadpan voice, or just that jokes pack the biggest punch when they’re straight from the comedian’s mouth
How Not To Be A Boy
Read by Robert Webb 8hrs 52mins
Whether it’s down to his deadpan voice, or just that jokes pack the biggest punch when they’re straight from the comedian’s mouth, the Peep Show star’s arid-humoured and poignant memoir is best read out loud. It looks back at his life through the lens of gender-conditioning, teenage crushes (on girls and boys), losing his mum to cancer, discovering the power of making people laugh in the Cambridge Footlights with David Mitchell, and becoming a husband and dad.
A 166-person cast, including the Thelma & Louise actress Susan Sarandon and Girls creator Lena Dunham brings the tale of limbo firmly to life
Lincoln In The Bardo
Read by Susan Sarandon and others 7hrs 7mins
A 166-person cast, including the Thelma & Louise actress Susan Sarandon and Girls creator Lena Dunham brings the tale of limbo firmly to life. An extraordinary, daring reimagining of the 1862 night when Abraham Lincoln buried his 11-year-old son, Willie, in a Washington ceremony, it won George Saunders the 2017 Man Booker Prize. Saunders’ account sees Willie trapped in a strange purgatory, surrounded by a colourful host of ghosts.
The Testament Of Mary
Read by Meryl Streep 1hr 40mins
From the tragic protagonist in Sophie’s Choice to a hippy hotel-owner in Mamma Mia!, Streep has played her fair share of memorable mums. In Colm Tóibín’s retelling of the Virgin Mary’s story she is the narrator, one of the most famous mothers of all. Tóibín’s novella replaces the pliant figure of tradition with an angry, sceptical woman who felt estranged not ecstatic when her son became a miracle-worker.
Triple Bafta-winner and Nanny McPhee star Thompson is joined by Douglas Booth to perform Jane Austen’s gothic-novel parody
Read by Emma Thompson and others 6hrs 6mins
Triple Bafta-winner and Nanny McPhee star Thompson is joined by Douglas Booth to perform Jane Austen’s gothic-novel parody. You may recognise Booth from the blood-spattered comedy-horror film Pride And Prejudice And Zombies. Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson, model and St Trinian’s actor Lily Cole and War Horse’s Jeremy Irvine also feature.
Duchovny and Anderson return as FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully after the events of the second X-Files film
The X-Files: Cold Cases
Read by David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and others 4hrs 5mins
Liquefying aliens, hissing creatures and humming spacecraft are just some of the noises that make up the otherworldly soundscape of this dazzling audio reprise of the cult science-fiction series. Duchovny and Anderson return as FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully after the events of the second X-Files film, I Want To Believe. A database breach at FBI headquarters allows an unknown group access to investigations that have been left unsolved.