Absurdist Fiction: Books That Challenge Conventional Ideologies

An unpopular genre with popular authors like Kafka, Heller, and Camus, Absurdist Fiction, is one unique genre! Follow along to learn more!

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This week in Crazy Book Genres, we are steering away from the classic (not so classic) crazy romance genres and hitting you with Absurdist Fiction. Absurdist fiction, though not as widely discussed, is a genre crafted by renowned authors and is known for incorporating elements of existentialism and surrealism. These literary works are teeming with vibrant characters and imaginative storylines that defy conventional norms. They boldly challenge traditional narrative structures and delve into philosophical themes that can leave readers disoriented yet intrigued. Within the pages of absurdist fiction, one will find profound contemplations on the purpose of life, fundamental human pursuits, and even the complexities of war.

If you are drawn to books that defy conventional views and theories of our existence, keep reading!

The History

The term “Absurdist Fiction” was coined in the mid-20th century when Albert Camus published his iconic novel, The Stranger.


Set in French Algeria, this book is the story of an indifferent man who commits a murder on a hot beach. He is then caught up in an arduous trial, during which he paves his way through understanding the reasons behind human existence. Filled with themes of existentialism, absurdity, and alienation, this book set the stage for the publication of many amazing books.

However, several themes in this book by Camus — and several of his other books — are inspired by the likes of Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. Both these authors were revolutionary in writing about existentialism. Although their books were largely about faith and culture, they formed the basis of absurdist writing formany future authors.

The Literature

Here are 3 other absolutely brilliant absurdist fiction novels that can make you rethink the world as you know it (I’m being dramatic, obviously…not).

“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka

Translated from German, this book tells the story of Gregor Samsa, a salesman. He wakes up one day to suddenly find himself transformed into a giant insect. The book tells his story of how he adjusts to his new identity. It brushes upon themes of alienation, disillusionment, and how he copes with the feeling of being out of place.

Kafka wrote this novella in just 3 weeks whilst he was working on one of his other books. However, the book took almost 3 years to be published due to its eccentric content that wasn’t understood or appreciated by a lot of people. 


Kafka is known to integrate pieces of himself and his life into his novels. In “The Metamorphosis,” Gregor Samsa’s floor plan was the same as Franz Kafka’s. Tiny details such as these humanize his very vivid characters, making them and their opinions more relatable and understandable for the reader.

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

Catch 22 is a satirical war novel — there is an oxymoron for you — that was published in 1961. It is the story of Captain John Yossarian, an American Bombardier who was trying to stay alive in the midst of war. The book is a complicated read, with several flashback loops that keep jumping back and forth to and from the present. 


Captain John believes that the war is a personal attack against him, and therefore he spends much of the book debating the many ways he could escape. Although wildly funny, this book is also unwaveringly serious. He repeatedly points out the absurdities of war, human suffering, politics, and loss. 

This book was a major shift from conventional narratives of war in books and set the stage for several great books filled with dark humor related to war.

The Trial by Franz Kafka

This book is an eerie story of Joseph K., who has committed a crime unknown to him and the reader. He is prosecuted by an unconventional legal system and keeps falling into bureaucratic traps set up by this government. This book, like a few others by Kafka, was incomplete and was only published after his death.


Although filled with themes that form the basis of absurdist fiction, like surrealism and dark humor, this book can also be categorized as paranoid fiction. Due to his unforeseen persecution, he slowly lost trust not only in the justice system but also in humans. He isolated himself from regular social structures and could not bring himself to trust those closest to him.

This book, much like others by Kafka, makes use of his evocative imagination to weave a story filled with complex characters and plots.

Although absurdist fiction is not as common as other genres, authors like Kafka, Camus, Heller, and Jean-Paul Sartre derived a ton of fame from their absurdist books. They are out-of-the-box and creative thinkers, and as weird as the books may seem, if you can delve deeper into the meanings and intent behind the book, they make for profound reads on real-life issues!

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