10 of the Weirdest Novels Ever Written


While the following ten novels are some of the most unusual ever written, it would be foolish for many reasons to claim they are the weirdest. Not even taking into consideration the subjectivity inherent in any judgment of a novel's relative weirdness, there is the sheer multitude of novels that are forgotten in the realms of Out-of-Print, or are handbound and underground, or are simply not worth reading.

To this end, I have limited myself to novels that are in print, available in English and are critically esteemed for their literary merit--indeed, some on this list are genuine classics.

Further, by limiting myself to ten novels, I naturally must leave out some works that are equally worthy of appearing on this list. As for why, say, Huysmans and not Kafka makes the list, I have only my taste and intuition for justification.

Finally, I have tried to vary selections by having some old and some new, some weird in terms of content and others weird in terms of form. Hopefully in this variety you will find some novelty to delight you.

10. Against Nature

Joris-Karl Huysmans became a leader of French decadence when he wrote this fin-de-siecle novel. One des Esseintes is essentially the sole character, with a few other people rarely glimpsed for purely functional purposes, not unlike objects. The novel follows des Esseintes in his bizarre self-indulgences, like his encrusting a turtle with jewels--so many that it can't move and dies--his tastes in Latin literature, his seeking out of the strangest plants, his binding a room like a book, his attempts to eat entirely by means of enemas and so forth. Most miraculously, Huysmans manages to make Against Nature quite a gripping novel.

9. The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr

E.T.A. Hoffman, as the major figure of German Romanticism and the inventor of modern 'magic realism,' was possibly the greatest and certainly the most influential author of 19th century Germany. He was already at the height of his career when he penned his last great novel and masterpiece, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, often subtitled, together with a fragmentary Biography of Kappelmeister Johannes Kreisler on Random Sheets of Waste Paper.

Tomcat Murr--a real cat, self-taught to read and write--sets out to write his autobiography, using the composer Johannes Kreisler's biography for a blotting pad (i.e. scrap paper). By a printer's error these two biographies are woven together. What we read in Tomcat Murr is the result of this error: the unnaturally spliced biographies of a likeable if pompous and bourgeois tomcat and a moody, melancholic composer, paralleling one another in unexpected ways.

8. Not Wanted on the Voyage

What happens when Canadian post-modernist Timothy Findley decides to retell the story of Noah's Ark with no concern for 'historical' accuracy or fidelity to known texts? You get Not Wanted on the Voyage. Did you know that Noah's last name is Noyes, that he was a doctor who experimented on animals, that unicorns were the size of dogs, that animals used to be able to talk, that Lucifer is a seven-foot-tall woman with webbed fingers, or that Yahweh flooded the world on account of a depression? Fortunately, Findley informs us of such things.

The protagonists of the novel are Noah's wife, who is gradually becoming more rebellious towards her husband's obession with Yahweh's laws and tyrannical rule, and her cat Mottyl, who is 'not wanted on the voyage' because Yahweh wants his cats on the voyage of the Ark.

7. Life: A User's Manual

Life is a novel that contains many stories--one-hundred-seventy-nine to be exact--but has one central story, that of Bartlebooth, a man who has decided to devote his life to a meaningless task which culminates in solving a jigsaw puzzle. As the novel begins Bartlebooth has just died and at that moment Perec freezes activity in Bartlebooth's apartment block.

Perec dedicates one chapter to each room within the apartment block, going through them one-by-one in knight's moves until he's been through all, including the stairwell. Each room is described exhaustively. Occasionally, due to the occupants of the room, a chapter adds to the story of Bartlebooth and his life's work of solving jigsaw puzzles.

Naturally the experience of reading Life is itself an intellectual jigsaw puzzle in which the history of the apartment block and the lives of those within it are pieced together. The order in which one chooses to read the chapters matters little.

6. Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician

Considered Alfred Jarry's masterpiece, Faustroll concerns the founder of pataphysics, which is the study of exceptions rather than laws of nature. Faustroll, back on his rent, flees Paris in a sieve for a boat with a talking baboon on navigation. Hopping from island to island, Faustroll teaches his non-science and encounters many bizarre people and surreal events. Among the many exploits of Dr. Faustroll is calculating the surface of God.

5. Dictionary of the Khazars

Forget plot and characters; forget linear narrative; Dictionary of the Khazars, purporting to be an historical record of the Khazar people, is indeed written as a dictionary. The entries, as in any dictionary, are arranged in alphabetical order and can be read in any order one wishes. Nevertheless, the subject matter is fantasy.

The book is divided into three major sections, Christian, Islamic, and Hebrew, each according to the sometimes-conflicting sources they provide on the Khazar people. The Khazars, for the purposes of this novel, are a fictional, pre-10th century European tribe. Although there is much factual content in the novel, that it is not slavish to historical accuracy gives author Milorad Pavic's imagination much leeway; and he takes full advantage, filling the novel with bizarre, surrealistic touches, magic, and mystery.

Note, too, that there are two editions, one male and one female. These editions are the same, save for fifteen lines.

Also worth checking out is Pavic's later novel Last Love in Constantinople, in which each chapter is a card from a tarot deck and the reader may arrange the chapters at will, 'divine' their own story by choosing the order.

4. Alphabetical Africa

Alphabetical Africa, as one might have guessed, is a novel with a gimmick. The first chapter contains only words that begin with the letter 'A'. The second chapter allows words that begin with 'B' as well, the third 'C' words, and so on to chapter twenty-six. Then chapter twenty-seven begins taking away, starting with the 'Z' words all the way back to just 'A' words again.

Within this structure, author Walter Abish tells a tale of jewel thieves seeking a female partner, who has fled to Africa after betraying her partners and with whom the narrator is in love. Meanwhile, Africa is invaded by an army of ants and is painted orange by a tranvestite queen of Zanzibar.

3. How It Is

The final novel of Samuel Beckett, How It Is certainly is a fitting swan song for a career of weird. The entire novel is written without punctuation in a series of short paragraphs. It is divided into three parts, as the opening sentence informs: before Pim, with Pim, and after Pim. All parts, however, consist of one main action: one person crawling through mud, infinite (it seems) mud.

Were that not odd enough, it is written in the style of Beckett's earlier novels, that is, primarily the stream-of-consciousness of a scarcely human mind. Here is one paragraph for a sample, "the tongue gets clogged with mud that can happen too only one remedy then pull it in and suck it swallow the mud or spit it out it's one or the other and question is it nourishing and vistas last a moment with that"

2. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino, tells the story of the Reader, who is trying to read a book called If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. Unfortunately, he finds his goal continuously frustrated by printing errors, being given the wrong book and a vast literary conspiracy amongst other things.

Along the way, Calvino allows you, the reader, to read the chapters from the books the Reader reads but never gets to finish and which you will never get to finish. Each of these chapters involves a pastiche of one of several genres and styles. You also get to meet the Other Reader with whom you may just fall in love before you finish reading If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.

1. Finnegans Wake

James Joyce's final work, Finnegans Wake must be the weirdest novel ever written. Joyce spent seventeen years of his life writing the Wake due to the sheer amount of research involved. Nearly every word and ever sentence in Finnegans Wake can be read a dozen ways on account of deliberate misspellings and invented portmanteaus that hint at other words--in up to sixty different languages! For instance, "What then agentlike brought about that tragoady thundersday this municipal sin business? Our cubehouse still rocks as earwitness to the thunder of his arafatas..."

Apparently the story of the Finnegan's death and the consequences, it also reads as a history of the world and a history of thought. There's nothing else like it; though one novel that approaches is the obviously-influenced Gilligan's Wake, which lightly applies the Finnegans Wake technique to the characters of Gilligan's Island with interesting results.


Comments 37 comments

cosmowriter profile image

cosmowriter 7 years ago

I barely know most of these books, but they look all interesting to me! I will surely read Finnegans Wake.

Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 7 years ago Author

I'm glad you found something you like. Good luck getting through the Wake. Cheers!

H.D.Cyr profile image

H.D.Cyr 6 years ago

"If on a Winters Night a Traveler" sounds like it might be humorous. Is it?

Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

HD Cyr: As is the case with most if not all postmodern literature, there is a good deal of humour within If on a Winter's Night a Traveler... However, it's generally a serious albeit amusingly clever book.

H.D.Cyr profile image

H.D.Cyr 6 years ago

Sounds good, then. Thanks.

lasept0010 6 years ago

I love Against Nature and The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr... Thanks.

kotoh profile image

kotoh 6 years ago from Chicago

Nice hub. Thanks for sharing

epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago


WA Christopher J. profile image

WA Christopher J. 6 years ago from First American Ruins, MI

11. "The Green Child" by Herbert Read. Great list!

Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Wow, I've been neglecting to reply to this hub for a while. Sorry folks! Thanks to all of you for commenting.

epigramman - The Bible is full of weirdness. Especially the Catholic Bible, in which the prophet Daniel slays a dragon by making it explode. But it's not a novel.

WACJ - I'll look The Green Child up. Cheers!

guesty 6 years ago

another strange one: "a void", by georges perec. a novel written entirely without the letter E...!

Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Hey Guesty,

Indeed. Anything by Georges Perec could be on this list.


izettl profile image

izettl 6 years ago from The Great Northwest

Not sure if I've heard of any of these, but I'm not opposed to checking some out. Interesting ideas behind them. I respect weird. lol.

2patricias profile image

2patricias 6 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

I've never read any of these, but now I've put "If on a winter's night" on my 'must read' list - sounds wonderful. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Hi Feoruski, thanks for the recommendation of the self-published novel. Yours, I presume.

Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Ahoy izettl!

Check 'em out and blow your mind! If folks didn't respect weird, I'd be pretty screwed.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

2 Patricias are better than one. BUT a Patricia in the hand is worth 2 Patricias in the bush.

Anyway, thanks for dropping by Patx2! Yes, the Italo Calvino novel is genius. Hope you enjoy it.


Doug Turner Jr. 5 years ago

These are mostly new to me. The one about the Khazars seems interesting. I recently read Michael Chabon's "Gentlemen of the Road", about the lost empire of Khazaria. Very cool stuff.

Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 5 years ago Author

Hey Doug,

What? And you're supposed to be the English major. ;)

But seriously, glad I could introduce a future writer of masterpieces to these literary oddities. A few of them make Harold Bloom's Western Canon list, I believe.


mcrawford76 profile image

mcrawford76 5 years ago from Greeley, Colorado

Wow, those all sound very interesting, I think I have a lot of reading ahead of me. Thanks for the tips. See and I was just thinking about some Clive Barker, or A Wrinkle In Time.

hannah 5 years ago

any1 know the name of this weird novel where there is this boy. the narrator of the story who is sooo crazy, he shoots rabbits just to watch them suffer to death and also has killed his cousins when he was just a kid? and something about him actually being a girl...

gary ashton 5 years ago

house of leaves? it's weird and wonderful, and slightly scary.

mabmiles profile image

mabmiles 5 years ago

Hmmm. I am quiet interested with the Dictionary of the Khazars.Thanks for sharing this nice hub.

Louise 5 years ago

Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk was weird. Thanks for the hub by the way, these would be future bedtime stories for me (:

shea duane profile image

shea duane 4 years ago from new jersey

Wow, I've read everything by Joyce except Wake... maybe I should try it.

Manuel 3 years ago

Spanish writer Vila-Matas wrote a book only containing foot notes of a text that is not written, "Bartleby & Co".

Manuel 3 years ago

Spanish writer Vila-Matas wrote a book only containing foot notes of a text that is not written, "Bartleby & Co".

LisaKoski profile image

LisaKoski 3 years ago from WA

Wow, what a fascinating list of books. I've never heard of any of these but I will have to check some of them out. I think the weirdest book I've read yet was House of Leaves.

limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

This is my 'cup of tea'


the limpet

limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

Pleasing to see the word pataphysician used here. For anyone new to the genre, pataphysics means 'beyond metaphysics'.

Tutu by Princess Sappho may rate as the wierdest book of all times.

It has apparently beeen rediscovered after a century lost. Tutu means (can't tell you here) which is a slang word as well as a baby word like coo coo. Princess Sappho is a nom de plume of (i've forgotten). The novelette deals with morality in a Bohemmian environ.......

limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

I've just discovered Sir Hugh Walpole's 'Castle Otranto' an 18th century tome with the plotline set in the medieval era featuring a noble family in a Shakespearian type tale. Heavy reading but certainly fits in the wierdest category.

limpet profile image

limpet 19 months ago from London England

A play rather than a novel that fits this category has to be Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. It is never revealed who in fact Godot actually is. The cast comprise four individual male actors and the only feature on the set, a barren tree. The two act play is a sequence of boredom interspersed with repetition.

limpet profile image

limpet 18 months ago from London England

'I am convinced man suffers a complete ignorance of himself', William Golding.

limpet profile image

limpet 18 months ago from London England

Error: should read 'suffers an appalling ignorance of himself'.

Limpet 7 weeks ago

Do you pass the psychopath test? by Jon Robson.

Limpet 5 weeks ago

Recently released for sale is Gillian Tett's The silo effect. Ms Tett an anthropologist looks at what in times past has been referred to as the Byzantine bureaucracy. In many organisations at this stage of the 21st century there exists much irrelevance to matters and sheer stupidity in communication.

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