15 of the Best Literary Fiction Listens 2023

Literary fiction is not easily definable, but the term tends to refer to books that are character-driven. The writing tends to use symbolism and precisely formed sentences, but that doesn’t mean the stories are slow or academic. Some of my favorite audiobooks fall into the literary fiction category, and many published this year have been exceptional.

Listening to literary fiction is a unique experience, and many people enjoy the audio experience because of the way skilled narrators add even more context to the story. Literary fiction is also diverse, so it can center around horror, family saga, or political issues. The following are some of the best literary fiction audiobooks from 2023. There’s something for every listener here, enjoy!

Welcome Me to the Kingdom by Mai Nardone 

Narrated by a Full Cast

I don’t always enjoy listening to short stories on audio. It can feel disjointed if not done well. Fortunately, Nardone’s interconnected stories of characters trying to make it in Bangkok are perfect for a listen. The full cast gives each character a uniqueness that stands out, and the interwovenness of the connections make it easy to follow each story.

These stories are gritty and reveal the underside of a city that seems polished on the surface. As each family we meet finds a way to survive, we learn more about their motives and resilience. 

Length: 9 hours and 4 minutes

Listen on Audible

Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

Narrated by Vidish Athavale

Age of Vice is on almost every must-read list of 2023, and it absolutely deserves the status. Set in India during the current time, Age of Vice follows the Wadia family as their greed and thirst for power make them one of the most feared families in the country. Gangsters, romance, family ties, Kapoor gets it all into a book that you won’t be able to pause until the end.

While literary fiction, the story flows like a Netflix binge you simply can’t turn off no matter how late it is. Intriguing and dark, get this one in on holiday break.

Length: 19 hours and 28 minutes

Listen on Audible

Sam by Allegra Goodman

Narrated by Rebecca Lowman

A quiet coming-of-age tale, Sam is a considerate look at a girl growing up with an unpredictable father and a mother who is trying to keep them fed and give her daughter a better future. Sam, our protagonist, doesn’t care about the things other girls her age seem to, and her relationship with climbing becomes complicated and also a means of survival as she ages. 

Tender, gut-wrenching, and honest, Goodman has written a beautiful story of what it’s like for a girl to try to grow up in the world we inhabit. You will feel a combination of light and heavy as you listen to this novel.

Length: 8 hours and 17 minutes

Listen on Audible

In Memoriam by Alice Winn

Narrated by Christian Coulson

Many novels focus on World War II, but Winn has set her story in World War I, an often forgotten time due to the atrocities that came a couple of decades later. We meet Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood, two classmates longing for each other and unable to make a move. When Gaunt and Ellwood end up fighting in the war, they face mortality, violence, and the forbidden love they have been carrying for too long.

This is a tragic story of war, but it’s also a beautiful glimpse of young love and innocence amidst the losses of battle. You will replay scenes from this book long after Coulson’s expert narration ends.

Length: 12 hours and 37 minutes

Listen on Audible

Old Babes in the Wood by Margaret Atwood

Narrated by Margaret Atwood and a Full Cast

Atwood is known for her novels, but she is also a skilled short story writer. This collection has something for everyone since there are stand-alone short stories and also seven interconnected stories that follow one couple through the decades of their lives together.

Dealing with issues of loss and a world that often feels like it’s on fire, Atwood brings her insightful view of relationships and love into this collection and also helps narrate these tales. Atwood fans will love this listen, and those who are new to Atwood will get a very good idea of her style from these stories.

Length: 8 hours and 44 minutes

Listen on Audible

The Nursery by Szilvia Molnar

Narrated by Malin Barr

This short but impactful listen is haunting and brilliant as it follows our narrator through postpartum depression and the early days of being a mother. As someone who struggled with postpartum anxiety after the birth of my first child, I was thrilled to see Molnar put words to the incomprehensible emotions that can attach to those sleep-deprived days when we are needed so much as mothers and lose any other identity we once had.

Stirring and ultimately hopeful, this audiobook will leave you feeling less alone, and it’s for any audience. Yes, mothers might especially appreciate and understand it, but a wide variety of listeners will enjoy Molnar’s language and story.

Length: 5 hours and 5 minutes

Listen on Audible

White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link

Narrated by a Full Cast

If you have heard any of Kelly Link’s work before, you know a bit of what you’re getting into. However, prepare to be unprepared as Link shows off her skill in a whole new book of short stories based off of fairy tales that take twisty turns at every opportunity.

Link’s writing is a weird treasure, and there is no way to predict how each story she writes will end. Pause between each story as you listen to fully absorb her style and genius, and pass this title on to other people in your life who like writing that is undefinable in the best way.

Length: 7 hours and 50 minutes

Listen on Audible

The Museum of Human History by Rebekah Bergman

Narrated by Gilli Messer and Mark Bramhall

Maeve is an eight-year-old who survived a near drowning only to be left in a coma. She stops aging, and this draws the attention of people from all around who think her current state could offer insight into time and immortality. 

This is a very human story with speculative fiction inserted throughout. Bergman finds a way to write about mental health, aging, and time, and both Messer and Bramhall handle each word with precision when offering this modern-day tale about questions that are centuries old. 

Length: 7 hours and 8 minutes

Listen on Audible

Big Swiss by Jen Beagin

Narrated by a Full Cast

The premise of this book alone is enough to pull in any listener: Greta is a transcriptionist for a sex therapist, and she becomes obsessed with one of his clients. Greta simply refers to this patient as Big Swiss and easily recognizes her voice when she hears it in town one day. A morally ambiguous being at best, Greta begins an affair with Big Swiss, not informing her that she has listened to some of her most private thoughts while transcribing them.

What follows is a hilarious romp where Beagin seamlessly weaves in big issues we all face in love, like faithfulness and gender roles. How far will Greta go to keep Big Swiss in her life, and how do we come back after crossing one too many lines?

Length: 11 hours and 15 minutes

Listen on Audible

The History of a Difficult Child by Mihret Sibhat

Narrated by Waceke Wambaa

A coming-of-age story set in 1990s Ethiopia, The History of a Difficult Child is full of rage, passion, and family and political turmoil. All of these drive Selam, the child narrator of this story, to seek justice and revenge in a world where her family is cut off by a new political power. While Selam’s mom finds God, Selam looks for a voice of her own, and Waceke Wambaa narrates that voice perfectly throughout this book.

Though this is literary fiction, you will also learn about Ethiopian history and how the country was shaped by the political upheaval it endured.

Length: 13 hours and 40 minutes

Listen on Audible

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton

Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

Best classified as an eco-thriller, Catton explores the lengths we will go to when we think we’re doing the right thing and who we are willing to betray to protect ourselves. Birnam Wood is a gardening group that plants as a form of activism. When they are short on funds, they stumble across an abandoned farm only to find it is inhabited by a billionaire, Robert, setting up a bunker for end times.

Robert recommends Birnam Wood work his farm, but can a guerilla gardening club and a billionaire get in bed together without compromising morals? Catton shows that even the best intentions can have consequences we aren’t prepared to face.

Length: 12 hours and 47 minutes

Listen on Audible

After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz

Narrated by Daniela Acitelli

Schwartz gives us a story told in vignettes about famous feminists in the early 20th century. Facing challenges and living in a world stacked against them, they chose to liberate themselves, attempting to escape the limits and abuses they experienced.

Though this is fiction, Schwartz brings these well-known names to life, and Acitelli’s voice adds the right emphasis and emotion to each word. A triumph of a book that offers hope for the future as women still fight for their rights, this is a must-listen for all.

Length: 7 hours and 30 minutes

Listen on Audible

Wellness by Nathan Hill

Narrated by Ari Fliakos

The Nix was my introduction to Nathan Hill, and I have been eagerly awaiting his next book. A master at character development, Hill is back with an intriguing listen about a couple living in Chicago. Jack and Elizabeth meet in the early 90s and quickly know they are in it for the long haul. Hill presents their early days, the magic of new love, and then zooms us forward to the realities most relationships face after decades of wear.

As a fellow middle-aged traveler, so much of this listen was relatable that it felt like having someone examine my life up close. As Jack and Elizabeth go on separate journeys to face their inner struggles, will they lose each other?

Length: 18 hours and 56 minutes

Listen on Audible

The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro

Narrated by Raquel Beattie

La Llorona, the crying woman, is a folk demon from Mexican legend, and she haunts new mother, Alejandra. This horror tale of postpartum depression, generational trauma, and the will to ascend beyond the darkness is woven together in this shadowy story. Whether or not you’ve struggled with depression, Castro has written a story that is empathetic while also presenting clearly the horrors of losing yourself to an engulfing darkness.

Length: 10 hours and 13 minutes

Listen on Audible

Western Lane by Chetna Maroo

Narrated by Maya Soroya

A patron at the library where I work recommended this quiet, beautiful story by Maroo about three siblings trying to move on in the wake of their mother’s death. Their father pushes them into a rigorous squash routine, and 11-year-old Gopi excels at the sport. She handles her grief and fear about the future on the court with her friend Ged, and this coming-of-age story is so well written that it is breathtaking. 

Length: 4 hours and 21 minutes

Listen on Audible

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