Book Recommendation: Complex Experimental Surreal Books

I really LOVE those fiction books that actively try to screw with your head with experimental styles and breaking the 4th wall. Can anyone recommend me any books like these?

So far those I’m aware off are

  • Pale Fire by Nabokov
  • Infinite Jest and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielslewski
  • Gravity’s Rainbow by Pynchon
  • Mulligan Stew by Gilbert Sorrentino
  • 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
  • If on a winter’s night a traveller by Italo Calvino
    The more philosophical conversations and random info-dumps thrown in the better, but it must still be at least in comprehensible English (unlike some works by Joyce).


Some great choices listed (I’m a big fan of Gravity’s Rainbow, the rest of Pynchon is less spectacular).

Some of Umberto Eco’s novels might fit the bill. I’m thinking of Foucault’s Pendulum, The Island of the Day Before and Baudolino in particular.

Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle is almost entirely made up philosophical conversations and random info-dumps. It’s a lot to take on though so read Cryptonomican first to see if you like his style.

Feersum Endjin by Iain M. Banks
Dhalgren by Samuel Delany
mildly, Railsea by China Miéville has some metafictional elements

You could try The Arabian Nightmare by Robert Irwin. Classic!
Much older but somewhat similar in it’s multi-layered dream within a dream effect is The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki. Also made into an excellent film.

KI haven’t read any of his works myself, and I don’t know if there’s any fourth wall-breaking, but his novels are definitely experimental and “surreal”, especially in a technical sense. I had friends who were big fans back in the 1960s/1970s, when he was hot stuff.

Richard Brautigan, especially in Trout Fishing in America and in Watermelon Sugar. I usded to see The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western all over the place, too.

John Barth, most notably Coming Soon!!!: A Narrative, Giles Goat Boy, Lost in the Funhouse, Chimera, and, if you dare, LETTERS (though to appreciate it, it helps if you’ve read his six previous books). Barth was doing metafiction before just about anyone else and even his most traditional seeming books (e.g., The Sot-Weed Factor, one of the greatest novels of the 20th century) are filled with literary tricks and subversion.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

I was going to recommend Neal Stephenson as well; however, there is a particularly gruesome scene which made me put the first book down and never want to look at it again. And I hadn’t even gotten to a major plot point yet.

They vivisect a stray dog and keep it alive as long as possible while they crack it open and watch its insides working, and the dog’s cries are described thoroughly.

Look up Post-Modern lit in Wikipedia: Postmodern literature - Wikipedia

Should keep you busy for a while.

Heh I knew someone would beat me to this. Yes and again yes.

For a classic look at mind-twisting lit, I recommend The Master and Margarita and The Man Who Was Thursday. Also Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table and just about everything by Jorge Luis Borges (particularly the collection Ficciones)

I agree there are some great books in the original list. Since I love a number of them, perhaps you will enjoy some of my other favourites. The grandaddy of experimental novels is Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. Most modern experimental novels are developments of ides from Sterne, Joyce and Beckett (this is an exaggeration, but not an absurd one).

Speaking of Beckett, his trilogy Molloy/Malone Dies/The Unnameable is another high point of experimental fiction.

I would echo RealityChuck in recommending John Barth: The Sot-Weed Factor and Chimera are my favourites.

Finally, William Gaddis’s The Recognitions is another excellent choice.

I also meant to mention At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien, but forgot in my first post.

I second Tristram Shandy. As said in the movie of it (good try, no cigar) it is a post modern novel before there was a modern to be post from.

A pint of plain is your only man!

The Raw Shark Texts: A Novel by Steven Hall

Lots of comics by Grant Morrison play with the 4th wall, in particular his Animal Man, the Zatanna miniseries of a few years ago, and his masterpiece, Invisibles. Invisibles in particular is all about philosophy, morality, and the difficulty of fighting for freedom without denigrating the freedom of those you’re fighting against. It’s also about drugs, sex, castrating juvenile delinquents, time travel, gun battles, and cthuloid monsters crossing into our dimention to rule humanity.

That said, Zatanna has probably the single most effective moment of breaking the 4th wall, and it’s only 4 issues. It’s part of a much larger project (Seven Soldiers) which is great but very challenging and, unlike Invisibles, probably depends on some knowledge of/interest in comic books.


Finishing infinite jest is still one of my prouder moments. Good story even though right now I remember very little of it.

I came in to recommend this one.

Noone’s mentioned The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and robert Anton Wilson yet?

Very much of it’s time, but still an interesting read.

Fitzpatrick’s War by Theodore Judson. The book is a fictional 50th anniversary, annotated biography of someone who is still in our future. So, you’re reading about the future from the POV of someone in the far far future who looks on it as history, and has a political viewpoint about that history that is different from the reader’s viewpoint and different from the putative author’s viewpoint as well .

I mean, it’s no Pale Fire but it’s pretty good. Better to read than describe, as these things often are.