Novels that are difficult to read are those that challenge the reader in some way. They may be complex in their language, structure, or themes. They may require the reader to think deeply about the text or to have a certain level of knowledge or experience in order to understand them.
There are many reasons why novelists write fiction that is difficult to read. Some novelists do it to challenge the reader’s expectations. They want the reader to work for their understanding of the text, and they believe that this can lead to a richer and more rewarding reading experience. Other novelists write something difficult to read when they are exploring complex ideas or experiences that cannot be easily conveyed in a straightforward way. They find that they have to write in a way that is challenging and thought-provoking and not in danger of being simplistic.
Of course, not everyone enjoys reading difficult novels. Some people prefer to read books that are easy to understand and that do not require a lot of thought. However, for those who are willing to put in the effort, difficult novels can be a rewarding and enriching experience.
Here are some of the things that can make a novel difficult to read:
- Complex language: This can include the use of long words, obscure vocabulary, or complex sentence structures.
- Abrupt shifts in narrative perspective: This can make it difficult to follow the story and to understand the characters’ motivations.
- Dense and allusive writing: This can include the use of references to other works of literature, history, or philosophy.
- Surreal or dreamlike imagery: This can make it difficult to interpret the text and to understand what is real and what is not.
Here are ten of the most difficult-to-read novels:
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (1924)
The Magic Mountain is a challenging novel to read for a number of reasons. First, it is very long, clocking in at over 700 pages. This can be daunting for some readers, and it can make it difficult to stay focused on the story. The novel’s nonlinear structure can be confusing too. The story moves back and forth in time, and it can be difficult to keep track of the different characters and subplots.
The novel’s protagonist, Hans Castorp, is a young man who is recovering from tuberculosis in a sanatorium. His stay in the sanatorium forces him to confront his own mortality, and it leads him to question the meaning of life. Being set in a sanatorium, the novel deals with complex medical and philosophical ideas. This can be difficult to understand for readers who are not familiar with these topics.
The novel is full of symbolism and allegory. This can make it difficult to interpret the text,.The novel’s title, The Magic Mountain, is itself a symbol. The mountain represents a place of isolation and introspection, where Castorp can escape from the pressures of the outside world and explore his own inner life. The mountain represents both the sanatorium, and Castorp’s journey of self-discovery. Castorp’s journey up the mountain is a journey into the unknown, and it is a journey that leads him to a deeper understanding of himself and the world around him but bewilders the reader in the process.
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929)
The Sound and the Fury is a challenging novel because it is told from the perspectives of four different characters, each of whom has their own unique way of seeing the world. This can make it difficult to understand the story and to keep track of the characters’ motivations.
The first section of the novel is narrated by Benjy, who is mentally handicapped. Benjy’s narrative is full of sensory impressions, and it is often difficult to understand what he is trying to say.
The second section of the novel is narrated by Quentin, who is suicidal. Quentin’s narrative is full of guilt and self-loathing, and it is often disturbing to read. It is full of allusions to Greek mythology and Shakespeare. These allusions can be difficult to understand without prior knowledge of these works, and they can make the text more difficult to read.
The third section of the novel is narrated by Jason, who is greedy and materialistic. Jason’s narrative is full of cynicism and bitterness, and it is difficult to sympathize with him.
The fourth section of the novel is narrated by Dilsey, who is a black servant. Dilsey’s narrative is the most straightforward of the four, but it is still a challenging read because of the themes of race and poverty.
The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil (1930)
The Man Without Qualities is a sprawling, unfinished novel that is considered one of the most difficult novels to read in the German language. The novel is set in Vienna on the eve of World War I, and it follows the story of Ulrich, a man who is trying to find meaning in life.
The novel is difficult to read for a number of reasons. First, it is very long, and it is often difficult to follow the complex plot. Second, the novel is full of philosophical and psychological insights, which can be challenging to understand – discussions of topics such as the nature of consciousness, the meaning of life, and the relationship between the individual and society. These discussions can be challenging to understand, even for readers who are familiar with philosophy and psychology. The novel’s opening sentence, “The world is as it is,” is a good example of the novel’s philosophical style. The sentence seems simple, but it is full of implications. It suggests that the world is a complex and chaotic place, and that it is difficult to understand, or it could, indeed be a simple place.
The text is linguistically challenging. In the opening sentence, for example, Musil writes: “Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften war ein Mann ohne Eigenschaften.” This sentence can be translated as “The man without qualities was a man without qualities.” However, the sentence is also full of puns and allusions. The word “Eigenschaften” can mean “qualities” or “properties,” and the word “Man” can mean “man” or “husband.” This sentence can therefore be interpreted in a number of different ways.
The novel’s style is experimental, and it uses a variety of different literary devices. Musil uses a variety of different literary devices, such as stream of consciousness, interior monologue, and allegory. These devices can make the novel difficult to read, especially for readers who are not familiar with them.
Despite its difficulty, The Man Without Qualities is a rewarding novel to read. The novel offers a complex and insightful portrait of the human condition, and it is a valuable contribution to the literature of the 20th century.
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (1939)
Finnegans Wake is a notoriously difficult novel to read. It is difficult to follow the narrative and to understand the characters’ motivations.
Here are some of the reasons why Finnegans Wake is considered one of the most difficult novels to read:
- The language is highly experimental. Joyce uses a variety of techniques to create a unique and challenging language in Finnegans Wake. These techniques include:
- Phonaesthetics: Joyce plays with the sounds of words, creating puns, portmanteaus, and other linguistic tricks.
- Neologisms: Joyce creates new words by combining existing words or by making up new words altogether.
- Allusions: Joyce alludes to a wide range of other texts, including classical literature, mythology, and popular culture.
- The narrative is nonlinear. Finnegans Wake is not a traditional novel with a linear plot. Instead, the narrative jumps back and forth in time, and it often follows multiple characters’ perspectives simultaneously. This can make it difficult to keep track of what is happening.
- The meaning is often ambiguous. Finnegans Wake is a very dense and allusive text, and it is often difficult to determine what Joyce is trying to say. This can make the novel frustrating to read, and it can be difficult to find satisfaction in the reading experience.
Despite its difficulty, Finnegans Wake is a highly acclaimed novel. It has been praised for its innovative use of language, its complex and multilayered structure, and its exploration of a wide range of themes.
Here are some quotations from Finnegans Wake that illustrate the novel’s complex language.
- “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of coast, comes by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” (Opening sentence)
- “Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s gorgios while they went doublin their mumper all the time: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick: not yet, though venissoon after, had a kidscad buttended a bland old isaac: not yet, though all’s fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.
- “Here Comes Everybody.” (Title of the first chapter)
- “A way a lone a last a loved a long the” (Repeated phrase throughout the novel)
- “He had me up to his eyes in a beautiful mellifluous vocable of which the components were familiar to me but the context was strange.” (Chapter 1.8)
- “The fall of a sparrow shall be lourd.” (Chapter 2.1)
These quotations give a sense of the challenges that readers face when reading Finnegans Wake. However, the novel is also a rewarding read for those who are willing to persevere.
The Recognitions by William Gaddis (1955)
The Recognitions is a difficult novel to read for a number of reasons. First, it is very long, over 1,000 pages. This can be daunting for readers who are not used to reading long novels.
Second, the novel is very complex. The plot is intricate and convoluted, and there are a large number of characters. This can make it difficult to keep track of what is happening and who is who.
Third, the novel is hugely allusive. Gaddis makes frequent references to other works of literature, art, and philosophy. This can make the novel difficult to understand for readers who are not familiar with the works that Gaddis is referencing. For example, in the opening pages of the novel, the protagonist, Wyatt, is described as being “like a man who has come to a foreign city and cannot find his way back to his hotel.” This is a reference to the opening of Dante’s Inferno, in which Dante finds himself lost in a dark wood. And there are increasingly more allusions to follow.
The Recognitions is often ambiguous. Gaddis does not always provide clear answers to the questions that he raises. This can make the novel frustrating for readers who are looking for a clear-cut narrative. For example, the novel ends with Wyatt’s father, Ambrose, dying in a fire. However, it is not clear whether Ambrose’s death was accidental or intentional, or even whether he has died at all.
Despite its difficulty, The Recognitions is a rewarding novel for those who are willing to make the effort. The novel is a complex and challenging work of art that rewards careful reading. It is a novel that is not meant to be easily understood. It challenges readers to think deeply about the nature of reality and the limits of human knowledge.
Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)
Gravity’s Rainbow is a difficult novel that is full of complex imagery and allusions. It is set during World War II, and it follows the story of a group of characters who are caught up in the war. However, the novel is not a straightforward war story, and it often veers off into tangents that explore a variety of different themes. For example, the novel includes a long section that is set in a Nazi rocket research facility. This section is full of scientific jargon and technical detail, and it can be difficult to follow.
Gravity’s Rainbow is a sprawling and complex novel that follows multiple characters and subplots. This can make it difficult to keep track of the story and to understand the relationships between the characters. For example, the novel’s opening section, “The Counterforce,” introduces a large cast of characters and sets up multiple plot lines. The reader is then taken on a journey through the novel’s complex and labyrinthine plot, which can be difficult to follow.
The novel is written in a dense and allusive style, making it difficult to understand. The text is full of references to other works of literature, history, and philosophy, and it can be challenging to understand. For example, the novel’s title, Gravity’s Rainbow, is a reference to the V-2 rocket, a German ballistic missile that was developed during World War II. The rocket’s trajectory is described as a “rainbow” in the novel, and this image is used to represent the novel’s themes of chaos and destruction.
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (1980-1983)
The Book of the New Sun is a four-volume science fiction novel by Gene Wolfe, published between 1980 and 1983. The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic world, and it follows the story of Severian, a torturer who is on a journey to become a knight.
The Book of the New Sun is considered one of the most difficult novels to read for a number of reasons. First, it is written in a highly complex and allusive style. Wolfe uses a wide range of vocabulary, and he often refers to historical, philosophical, and mythological figures and concepts. For example, in the opening sentence of the novel, Severian describes himself as “a torturer, the last of the Autarch’s torturers.” The word “autarch” is a reference to a monarch who rules with absolute power, and it is not immediately clear what it means in the context of the novel.
Second, the novel is nonlinear. The story is told in a series of flashbacks and flashforwards, and it can be difficult to keep track of the timeline. For example, in the first chapter, Severian tells the reader that he is on a journey to the Citadel of Nessus, but he does not arrive at the Citadel until the fourth chapter. The first chapter takes place in the past, while the second chapter takes place in the present. This can make it difficult to understand the characters’ motivations and the overall plot of the novel. In the first volume, Severian recounts his childhood, his training as a torturer, and his journey to the Citadel of Nessus. However, the order of these events is not always clear, and it can be difficult to understand how they all fit together.
Third, the novel is full of symbolism and allegory. Wolfe uses the novel to explore a number of themes, including the nature of reality, the meaning of life, and the power of language. In the second chapter, Severian encounters a character named Vodalus, who represents the forces of chaos and disorder. Vodalus’s name is a reference to the Roman god of revelry and wine, and he is often associated with darkness and fire.
The Book of the New Sun is a challenging novel to read, but it is also a rewarding one. The novel is full of rich imagery, complex symbolism, and thought-provoking ideas.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (1994)
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a challenging novel because it is dreamlike and surreal. The novel is difficult to interpret, and it can be challenging to understand what is real and what is not. For example, the novel’s protagonist, Toru Okada, searches for his missing cat, but he also encounters a number of strange and mysterious events, such as a woman who appears to be possessed by a bird and a man who claims to be able to communicate with cats.
The novel is also nonlinear, and it often jumps back and forth in time. This can make it difficult to follow the narrative and to understand the characters’ motivations. For example, the novel’s first section is narrated by Toru, but the second section is narrated by his wife, Kumiko. This shift in perspective can be jarring, and it can make it difficult to understand the relationship between Toru and Kumiko.
One of the most difficult aspects of the novel is its use of symbolism. Murakami often uses symbols to represent different aspects of the human experience, and these symbols can be difficult to understand. For example, the wind-up bird itself is a symbol of the unknown, and it represents Toru’s journey into the realm of the unconscious.
The wind-up bird is a recurring symbol in the novel, and it is often associated with death and rebirth. The novel also alludes to a number of other works of literature, such as Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Jorge Luis Borges’s The Garden of Forking Paths.
The novel’s world is not always what it seems. It is a world where the boundaries between reality and fantasy are blurred, and where strange and mysterious events can happen. This can make the novel difficult to understand, but it also makes it a challenging and rewarding read.
The Tunnel by William Gass (1995)
The Tunnel is a challenging novel for a number of reasons. First, the novel is written in a highly experimental style, using a complex and allusive language that is full of puns, allusions, and neologisms. The novel’s opening sentence, “The world is a cave” introduces the reader to a myriad interesting ideas.
The story is told from the perspective of a man named Harry Haller, who is obsessed with the idea of the tunnel. Haller’s obsession with the tunnel leads him to explore the dark side of human nature, and it forces him to confront his own demons. This becomes a difficult and disturbing journey for the reader to follow.
The novel is full of philosophical and theological discussions. They can be challenging to follow, and they can often leave the reader feeling confused or uncertain. For example, in one passage, Haller says, “The world is a cave, but it is also a labyrinth. We live in the dark, but we are also lost.” This passage is a good example of the novel’s self-conscious style. The narrator is aware that he is writing a novel, and he is using this awareness to explore the nature of language and identity. This passage raises a number of difficult questions about the nature of reality and the meaning of life.
The narrator’s thoughts and memories are presented in a way that is not chronological or linear. In one passage, the narrator describes his childhood in a way that is both vivid and fragmented: “I remember the smell of my mother’s cooking, the feel of my father’s hand on my shoulder, the taste of my first kiss. I remember the day I learned that my parents were getting a divorce, the day my dog died, the day I graduated from high school.” Thoughts and memories often flow together in a way that is difficult to follow.
The Tunnel is a challenging novel, but it is also a rewarding one. The novel offers a unique and insightful perspective on the human condition, and it is sure to stay with the reader long after they have finished reading it. It is a novel that is concerned with the nature of reality, the meaning of life, and the dark side of human nature. These are all difficult and challenging topics, and Gass’s novel does not offer easy answers. However, the novel is a rewarding read for those who are willing to engage with its challenging ideas.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (1996)
Infinite Jest is a sprawling, encyclopedic novel that is full of references to popular culture, philosophy, and addiction. For example, the novel’s opening section, “April 1st, Year of Glad,” introduces a large cast of characters and sets up multiple plot lines. The reader is then taken on a journey through the novel’s complex and labyrinthine plot, which can be difficult to follow.
The text is difficult to follow, and it can be challenging to keep track of the multiple characters and subplots. For example, the novel includes a long section that is set in a halfway house for recovering addicts. This section is full of technical jargon and medical detail, and it can be hard to follow. However, the section also includes a number of disturbing images, such as the description of a character who is “hooked on pain medication” and who “can’t feel anything anymore.” The reader drowns in those chaotic and bewildering images.
Infinite Jest is also written in a dense, allusive style, making it difficult to understand. The text is full of references to other works of literature, history, and philosophy, and it can be challenging to understand the novel’s meaning. For example, the novel’s title, Infinite Jest, is a reference to a film that is said to be so entertaining that it is addictive and can drive people to suicide. For example, the opening sentence of the novel, “A certain man, having purchased a lottery ticket, found that in the course of his life he was able to influence the outcome of chance events in a manner that was both statistically significant and personally beneficial,” is a good example of the novel’s complex style. The sentence is full of information, and it can be challenging to understand all of the implications.
And this concludes our list of some of the world’s most difficult-to-read novels. What’s your take on these – have you read any of them?