Twelve Wildly Original Unusual Novels


Lately I have been reading the new novel ‘Indelicacy’ by Amina Cain, and it caused me to consider some of the other dazzlingly original novels which I have read in the past. I will be covering ‘Indelicacy’ in depth in a future article, but in the meantime I have put together the following list of really good novels which I have read that are well nigh unclassifiable. I tried for a wide variety in this list; the only trait the novels in this list have in common is that they would not fit into any other genre list.


‘The Intuitionist’ by Colson Whitehead (1999)– Here is an allegory about a female New York City elevator inspector. Some of the elevator inspectors are “intuitionists” and others are “empiricists”.

It is failure that guides evolution; perfection provides no incentive for improvement, and nothing is perfect.”


‘The Man Without Qualities’ by Robert Musil (1930) – Here is a novel of ideas that will change your life if you have the patience to read all of its pages. I actually found the novel quite easy to follow and understand once I got into it. Since it is divided up into Part I and Part II, I gave myself credit for reading two novels.



‘The Bone People’ by Keri Hulme (1984) – It was originally turned down by many publishing houses, one of which wrote:

“Undoubtedly Miss Hulme can write but unfortunately we don’t understand what she is writing about.”

‘The Bone People’ was finally published by a small publishing house and went on to win the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1984. It is now considered an unorthodox classic about the indigenous New Zealand Maori people and us.

‘Good Morning, Midnight’ by Jean Rhys (1939) – Critics in 1939 found the modernist novel ‘Good Morning,Midnight’ so repellent that it sold very poorly. Rhys then disappeared from public view, stopped writing due to feeling inadequate, and fell into obscurity. By 1964, Rhys was living in a shack made of corrugated iron and tar paper. Then there was a major Jean Rhys revival in 1976 with the publication of her novel ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’. Author V. S. Naipaul wrote that ‘Good Morning, Midnight is “the most subtle and complete of her novels”.

‘Pale Fire’ by Vladimir Nabokov (1962) – It starts as a 999-line poem with commentary, but winds up being one of the most humorous novels ever written. If you want to fully appreciate Vladimir Nabokov, don’t read ‘Lolita’; read ‘Pale Fire’ instead.





‘White Noise’ by Don DeLillo (1985) – I could have picked any one of several DeLillo novels, but I picked ‘White Noise’ because it was my first love of Delillo’s work. I had read some of DeLillo’s earlier work, but wasn’t totally captivated until this one. This is a supremely ironic take on consumer life in the United States and elsewhere.



‘The Hour of the Star’ by Clarice Lispector (1977) – This is Lispector’s masterpiece. She was a Brazilian writer for which the reader sometimes must work hard to fully appreciate her novels, but in the end it is well worth the effort. The French critic Hélène Cixous has written,The Hour of the Star’ is a text on poverty that is not poor”. It is as bewildering as it brilliant.

What can you do with the truth that everyone’s a little sad and a little alone?”

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien – Here is another novel which originally had poor reviews, but now is on the Guardian’s list at #64 of the greatest novels ever written. It is an Irish comic masterpiece. Dylan Thomas gave us this line about ‘At Swim Two Birds’: “This is just the book to give your sister – if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl.” But don’t force me to explain what it is about.


‘Berg’ by Ann Quin (1964) – Here is one that is easy to follow and understand. Set in a seedy British seaside resort, ‘Berg’ is an outrageous and fun read. It is a sleazy tale about killing Dad. Maybe if Ann Quin had lived, English literature might have been wilder, less cautious, and sleazier than it is today.




‘Autobiography of Red’ by Anne Carson – This work is a verse novel based loosely on the Greek myth of Geryon and the tenth labor of Herakles, but that description is not even close to capturing everything that this book is about. It is a deeply odd and engaging work about creating art which in that sense makes it similar to Anina Cain’s ‘Indelicacy’.



‘Blindness’ by Jose Saramago (1995) – A mass epidemic of blindness afflicts nearly everyone in an unnamed city. Here we have a near-total social breakdown caused by this epidemic. This is a Portuguese novel for our particular time, or maybe we should avoid it just now.




‘The Book of Disquiet’ by Fernando Pessoa (1982) – ‘The Book of Disquiet’ was found among Pessoa’s possessions after he died in 1935. It was not published until 47 years later. It was Pessoa’s lifelong project and has been called “a factless autobiography” by one of the several personnas this wonderful poet assumed in his work. I consider it a fantastic work of fiction.





6 responses to this post.

  1. Well, you’ve certainly added to my wishlist with this lot! I’ve read some of them (Blindness, At Swim two Birds, and The Bone People) but am aghast to be reminded that I’ve never read Pessoa…

    Liked by 1 person


  2. I’m interested to read Berg as I read Three a few years back and admired it a lot. Indelicacy is also on my wishlist.

    Liked by 1 person


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