It is likely that someone you have seen a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses on their shelf hasn’t really read it, or hasn’t gotten all the way through it. I’m not passing judgment here; many people have tried and failed to read the so-called “unreadable” novel.Some novels are plain difficult to read. others need you to battle with ideas that aren’t best explored through written word, others have too many characters and subplots to keep track of, some are recounted by unreliable narrators, and some are even just made up words. Some go into excessive detail, while others assume you know everything there is to know before you even lift the dust cover. Some are simply far longer than necessary. Ten books that are difficult to finish reading for various reasons are listed here.
10 William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury
“Life is a story told by a fool, full of noise and rage, and meaningless.”—Macbeth, Act V, pages 26–28Let’s begin with the evident. The most well-known book by William Faulkner is already a little unconventional, with four distinct narrators guiding us through a narrative devoid of a clear plot. The book’s opening perspective, that of Benjy, a guy with serious mental health issues who only dimly comprehends what is happening and who jumps back and forth through his own recollections without indicating to us when exactly we changed gears, adds to the novel’s difficulty. What hope is there for readers if even the characters in the novel are unaware of what is happening?
9 Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Centuries of Solitude
The vastness of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s story about obsession and seclusion is practically mind-bending. This book is incredibly difficult to follow because almost all of the male family members have the same name. It follows the same family over six generations as they establish their new village, Macondo. Even if Sound of Fury could be difficult to follow, at least the characters have unique names.
The characters appear condemned to repeat what is basically the same story arc—trapped in a cycle of prosperity and despair, forced to repeatedly make the same mistakes—until their hamlet is ultimately destroyed by a cyclone. As if that weren’t perplexing enough.
8 Woolf’s To the Lighthouse
Nothing is done. Not a story. Very little conversation. A family visits Skye Island. They decide not to go to the lighthouse because it is raining. That is all. All of the rest is philosophical and contemplative. Like in Sound of Fury, we occasionally jump about in the thoughts of the characters, and it’s not always obvious when the shift occurs.
7 Umberto Eco, “Foucault’s Pendulum” (2007)
The plot of Umberto Eco’s book centers on three publishers who investigate secret societies and ultimately decide to create their own. They finally get so caught up in their “Plan” that they fail to realize it was a fabrication.The problem with this book is that it contains so much science, philosophy, mythology, and history that you have to flip between different sources every five minutes in order to stay up to date with the story. Many have interpreted it as a satire of historical revisionism and postmodernism, among other things. Since you’ll need a lot of books close by to understand it at all, it makes reasonable that the book is primarily about books.
6 Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables
On the other hand, some novels’ use of shape or structure makes them less intimidating. Certain novels are just very long. Les Miserables, sometimes lovingly called “The Brick,” tells the epic tale of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict in pre-revolutionary France who chooses to torn up his parole document and go on the run using a false identity.If only everything were that easy. Throughout the book, author Victor Hugo takes many detours, choosing to tell us the entire life story of a bishop who only makes one appearance and a thorough explanation of Paris’s sewer system. Despite having over 600,000 words, the book is obviously not succinct. Instead, see the film.
5 Marguerite Young’s Miss Macintosh, My Darling
Marguerite Young’s Miss Macintosh, My Darling is one of the longest books ever written, even though it might not be as painful to read as To the Lighthouse or The Sound and the Fury. Miss Macintosh has a higher word count than not only Les Miserables but also Atlas Shrugged and War and Peace, to put this into context.It took Marguerite Young eighteen years to write her narrative about a woman who was seeking to find her childhood nanny, and even she acknowledges that she wouldn’t have bothered if she had known how long it would take. One man even promised to cover their child’s college fees if they finished it, and he gave a copy to each of his acquaintances.
4 The Epic of Mahabharata
Did you consider Miss Macintosh to be difficult? Try the Mahabharata, a 1.8 million word Sanskrit poem that is nearly three times longer than Les Mis and more than twice as lengthy as Miss Macintosh. This work, which combines a dramatic account of an ancient Indian conflict with a religious text, explores every possible angle. With over 100,000 couplets scattered over numerous subplots, it provides a rather complete overview of ancient Indian Hinduism. We follow characters into their subsequent lives even after they pass away. I don’t blame you if such a text intimidates you. The epitome of an epic poem is this one. This video is the five-hour film adaptation of the story, which was trimmed from the nine-hour theatrical production. I would suggest avoiding the video if the term “cultural appropriation” makes you clutch your pearls and send out irate tweets.
3 Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5
Valerie Perrine in the official trailer for Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) in high definition
Undoubtedly, a book’s unfathomable expanse and absurd stream-of-consciousness narrative are not the only aspects that make it difficult to read. The sheer ambition of Slaughterhouse Five’s subject matter, rather than the film’s scale, is what makes it so hard to read. Kurt Vonnegut tries to capture the incomprehensible in Slaughterhouse Five (also named The Children’s Crusade), telling the story of the carpet-bombing of Dresden and other wartime tragedies via Billy Pilgrim’s perspective, who suffers from shell shock and lives life on repeat.The book’s lurid nihilism adds to its unpleasantness. The way in which murder, genocide, and warfare are portrayed makes for an incredibly terrifying read. Additionally, the main character is kidnapped and imprisoned in a human zoo by time-traveling, one-handed alien toilet-plungers. (Avoid asking).
2 Anthony Burgess’s Clockwork Orange
Why not try reading about horrifying acts of violence in a made-up language if you enjoy reading about such things? Less than 200 pages make up the novel A Clockwork Orange, which is also written entirely in Nadsat, a slang term created by author Anthony Burgess to prevent the futuristic setting from becoming romanticized. For the first few copies, Burgess also declined to include a glossary, so readers were forced to interpret a completely invented language on their own.A Clockwork Orange is difficult to read through, even once you have deciphered half of the words. Not much is done by Nadsat to lessen the brutal details of rape, torture, and violence. The novel is utterly horrible from beginning to end, even though the movie version has a more depressing conclusion.
1 James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake
The Irish modernist James Joyce, the author of similarly perplexing pieces such as Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, truly excelled himself with this one. Finegans Wake has it all: an enormous length, a cyclical structure, experimental prose in a made-up language, and a stupid plot, assuming one even exists. It’s the classic novel that is impossible to read.If you thought 100 Years of Solitude wasn’t circular enough, Finnegans Wake takes it a step farther by starting a sentence in the middle and ending it at the beginning. As a result, the entire book reads like a never-ending figure-8, making it both lengthier and stranger than Les Misérables, Miss Macintosh, and the Mahabharata combined.