A scene from the film adaptation of 'Cloud Atlas'

11 Crazy-Complicated Classic Works of Fiction

 

While we wait for the robots to take over most cumbersome tasks, a brave few still take it upon themselves to tackle books that defy easy absorption or explanation. These classic works of literature are no walk-in-the-park. You may even find your self questioning your sanity. But if you stick it out, you may just end up with a truly transformative experience. Might be best to put a ‘no entry’ side on the door, ’cause you’re gonna be out of commission for the next few days/weeks/months… 

 

  1. ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ by James Joyce

 

finnegan's wake cover

Image courtesy of Birth.Movies.Death.

 

Joyce’s final novel, ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ is also the Irish modernist’s most complex work. The narrative tools Joyce had been finessing for years, from stream-of-consciousness to sudden changes in perspective, all culminate in a work so dense that there is still no absolute consensus on what the plot even is. Enter this mad house if you dare…

 

  1. ‘The Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer

 

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Image courtesy of Amazon

 

Back when Chaucer wrote ‘Tales’ way back in the 1390’s, Middle English was the common language of the English people. Things have changed a bit since then. Though modern readers attempting to absorb the text in it’s original vernacular must confront a bizarre sense of simultaneous recognition and alienation while parsing out expired words and spellings, modern English translations still present their own challenges when it comes to understanding syntax and the social mores of Chaucer’s day.

 

  1. ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ by Ishmael Reed

 

mumbo jumbo cover

Image courtesy of How Long to Read

 

In 1972, Ishmael Reed cut mainstream American society–and its appropriation of black culture–down to size with this epic work about an “epidemic” of blackness called “Jes Grew” spreading into white America. Reed takes his world building to the extreme, incorporating a jam-packed cast of historical figures and nobody misfits, and entire sections that veer completely away from the main plot. It’s crazy, it’s frightening, it’s mesmerizing—just like America, it seems.

 

  1. ‘To the Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf

 

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Image courtesy of Amazon

 

Woolf, one of the early twentieth century modernists who helped changed the way novels are written, aims to explore nothing less than the very nature of human consciousness in this expressionist take on the journey of one large English family over a tumultuous period of personal and political history. The lighthouse is the least of our worries…or is it?

 

  1. ‘Nightwood’ by Djuna Barnes

 

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Image courtesy of Goodreads

 

Though praised for its frank exploration of homosexuality when such depictions were extremely hard to come by, this very autobiographical 1936 novel’s gothic prose style makes it yet another modernist masterpiece with capacity to slowly melt your brain.

 

  1. ‘In Search of Lost Time’ by Marcel Proust

 

in search of lost time cover

Image courtesy of The Independent 

 

And to think it all started with a madeleine cake! One taste of the dessert is all it takes for The Narrator (heavily based on Proust himself) to descend into a spiraling rabbit hole of emotions, regrets, and involuntary childhood memories of life in the prosperous but repressed wealthy French milieu. At 4,125 pages, this probably isn’t the kind of book you should tote to the beach.

 

  1. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

 

Amazon

Image courtesy of Amazon

 

For Tolkien-ites, ‘The Silmarillion’ is where it all begins: it is the story of how Middle-Earth itself came to be, and it was the first LOTR-related writing Tolkien—who started work on the project while recuperating from injuries sustained in WWI—ever did. Those who thought the LOTR trilogy and ‘The Hobbit’ contained more than enough background information and weird fantasy names would be best to avoid this book. If that isn’t you, happy reading!

 

  1.  ‘Making of Americans’ by Gertrude Stein

 

making of americans cover

Image courtesy of Wikipedia 

 

In the tradition of Leo Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’, Stein crafts a multi-generational epic about the fortunes and failures of two prominent American families. Though she doesn’t include maddeningly tedious-to-translate French like Tolstoy does, Stein does make a specific choice to repeat certain phrases over and over that makes it quite easy to totally lose your bearings in the already-dense universe of the Hersland and Dehning clans.

 

  1. ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell

 

cloud atlas cover

Image courtesy of The Crossover Universe

 

What to the nineteenth century South Pacific, 1970’s California, and the post-apocalyptic future have in common? You tell us! Mitchell’s foray into re-incarnation and the unchangeable components of human nature is at turns exhilarating and, well, exhausting. Take snack breaks.

 

  1. ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert

 

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Image courtesy of The Covers

 

Paul Atreides is your average 15-year old boy. He likes swords. He is the heir to a Dukedom. He lives in space—specifically, on a desolate desert planet where giant worms roam and the locals take drugs that turn their eyes blue. Oh, and he’s probably the intergalactic messiah. Sorry, did we say he was average? What we meant was “balls-to-the-wall insane and profoundly complicated.” Dune offers much to those who accept its challenges, but do not expect a story that one can just consume without quite a bit of digestion afterwards.

 

  1. ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel García Márquez

 

one hundred years of solitude cover

Image courtesy of Amazon

Whimsical magic and brutal historical realities make strange bedfellows in this look at one very messed up Colombian family’s experience of love, violence and colonialism in a small backwater town. If nothing else, Márquez makes abundantly clear that “the truth”—or the rationalizations and pat stories we convince ourselves are the truth—are not what he’s aiming for here. And we are (mostly) grateful for it.

 

Featured image courtesy of The A.V. Club.