These best fiction books about New Orleans capture the spirit, culture and history of this unique and diverse American city.
I've been fascinated by this literary setting since I was a child, and this fascination has only grown for me as an adult. So many timeless authors have connections to NOLA and it lends itself to really rich and complex literature, many of which are classic New Orleans literature and/or award-winning books set in New Orleans.
And my husband studied at Tulane University and brings Southern influences to our Mid-Atlantic life to this day.
Best Fiction Books About New Orleans
So, let's get to the best fiction books about New Orleans.
(If you are doing a 50 States of America reading challenge, these books make great picks for Louisiana.)
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
For fans of classics and feminist books
The Awakening is an American classic character-driven book, also on the Rory Gilmore book list, and first published in 1899. It's set in New Orleans and the Southern Louisiana coast at the end of the nineteenth century, and the plot centers on Edna Pontellier's struggle to reconcile her unorthodox views on femininity, purpose, love, and motherhood with the social norms of the South.
It's a powerhouse early work on feminism, which I would imagine to be quite shocking at the time, combining social commentary with psychological complexity. It reminded me in bits and pieces of so many other books: Where'd You Go, Bernadette?; The Push and A Room With a View.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
For fans of classics, humor and unique books
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
A Confederacy of Dunces is an American classic book set in New Orleans, with a gregarious sense of humor. Protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly is an obese "Don Quixote of the French Quarter," and his life is filled with utterly original characters and realistic dialogue set amidst comical adventures across the lower depths of New Orleans lower depths
And it contained references to New Orleans hotspots like Pirate Alley, which is currently home of Faulkner House Books.
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
For fans of Oprah's Book Club, Just Mercy, The Sun Does Shine and Black Lives Matter books
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
A Lesson Before Dying is an Oprah's Book Club book set in New Orleans about a young man who returns to 1940s Louisiana to visit a young black man on death row for a crime he did not commit. Together, these two men come to understand there is heroism in resisting.
All this Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg
For fans of Big Little Lies and Succession
All This Could Be Yours is a good story about a bad man. Alex Tuchman a strong-minded lawyer, devoted mother and loving sister set out to learn the secrets of her dying father, a power-hungry real estate developer. She travels to New Orleans to be with her family and question her mother, who reflects on a tumultuous life.
Meanwhile, Alex’s brother is in Los Angeles, working on his movie career, while his wife is having a nervous breakdown all around New Orleans. It's family dysfunction at its finest, as the family must find a way to move forward. This is what it's like to be stuck in the web of a toxic man.
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
For fans of vampires!
The classic that started it all from the #1 New York Times bestselling author Anne Rice, many of whose books are set in NOLA
Interview with the Vampire is a New Orleans novel that details the sordid confessions of the 200-year life of a vampire. Louis was a young indigo plantation owner in 1791, living near New Orleans when he meets a person who turns him into a vampire after expressing a wish for his company.
This unforgettable fiction book set in New Orleans questions immortality and cannibalism in ways that are both shocking and astonishing. Without giving up too much (because there's a lot that unfolds), it's ultimately about danger, love, loss, and suspense.
November Road by Lou Berney
For fans of mysteries and thrillers
Named a best book of the year by: Entertainment Weekly, Washington Post, AARP, Newsweek, Dallas Morning News, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Chicago Public Library, Real Book Spy, CrimeReads, Litreactor, Library Journal, LitHub and Booklist
When people say they want to read a really good novel, the kind you just can't put down, this is the kind of book they mean. Exceptional.- Stephen King
In November Road, a fiction book set in New Orleans, a street lieutenant to a New Orleans mob boss is out of luck. He knows too much about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Within hours of the assassination, everyone with ties to the mob boss is dead, and this street lieutenant suspects he’s next, as he was in Dallas for the boss two weeks prior. So, he heads to Las Vegas to see an old associate who will help him "vanish."
When he comes upon a pretty housewife and her two young daughters broken down on the side of the road as they escape an unhappy Oklahoman life, he sees an opportunity to cover his tracks from the hitmen tailing him. He poses as an insurance man and offers to help her reach California if she accompanies him to Vegas.
They shouldn't fall in love. It might get them both killed. This is an evocative crime novel about a cat-and-mouse chase across 1960s America, filled with the hope of second chances.
I especially loved the scene set in the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Montelione -- one of my favorite NOLA hot spots!
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
For fans of modern literature and Black Lives Matter books
Winner of the National Book Award
Salvage the Bones is New Orleans literature that tackles Hurricane Katrina. In the days leading to it, Esch's father, an absent alcoholic, becomes concerned for his motherless children. Esch is 14 and pregnant, and her three brothers are stocking food and preparing for the future.
As the hurricane approaches, this unforgettable family makes sacrifices and protects and nurtures each other against all odds. This New Orleans novel takes a hard look at the brutal realities of poverty, set against the devastating storm.
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
For fans of theater
The Pulitzer Prize and Drama Critics Circle Award winning play
A Streetcar Named Desire is a classic play on the Rory Gilmore book list, set amidst the heat of New Orleans. It's about how the promiscuous Blanche DuBois is pushed over the edge by her sexy but brutal brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski.
With rich and evocative dialogue, this American masterpiece explores sensitive characters and dramatic violence.
And the last time I visited New Orleans, I stumbled upon A Streetcar Named Desire artwork in the French Quarter!
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
For fans of Good Morning America's book club, modern literature and Black Lives Matter books
- My Top Pick on this List
- My Best Fiction Book of 2020
- #1 New York Times bestseller
- One of Barack Obama's favorite books of 2020
- Named a best book of 2020 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, People, Time Magazine, People, Time Magazine, Vanity Fair & Glamour
The Vanishing Half is a Good Morning America book club pick that I knew would be the best of the year 2020 from the moment I read it. It's a complex story of unforgettable characters: two light-skinned Black identical twin sisters raised in a light-skinned Black Louisiana township.
As teens, they run away to New Orleans. One sister, Stella, secretly leaves and marries a white man, thus beginning a new life as a white woman. The other twin sister, Desiree, marries a Black man and has a Black daughter, both of whom are dark-skinned.
With rich writing and meaningful character choices, this fiction book set in New Orleans follows the twins and their family throughout several decades, from the 1950s to the 1990s, as they live separate but, oftentimes, overlapping, lives.
It's a true work of art with themes of race, identity, exposure, education, environment and acting that will leave you wanting to know what happens next.
I loved it so much I wrote an entire guide to The Vanishing Half.
Related New Orleans Posts
My husband lived in New Orleans for college and often has cravings for Cajun food. Over the years, we have perfected a few recipes, which are both some of our favorite recipes and readers' favorite recipes. Check them out to pair the best fiction books about New Orleans with some spicy Louisianan comfort food:
- 30 Minute Gluten Free and Vegan "Shrimp" and Grits Recipe
- Quick One Pot Vegan Red Beans and Rice Recipe
I also have New Orleans travel guide with very classy, adult type of relaxing long weekend ideas for great food and fun.
Lastly, pin this post to Pinterest because you can refer back to it when you are visiting NOLA and/or want to read the best fiction books about New Orleans.