I'm looking for examples of novels without protagonists. See inside for details.
I was telling a friend my idea for a novel, and we ended up getting into a debate about what constitutes "a novel." He insisted that a work without a protagonist isn't a novel - it's fine, it's its own thing, but it's not a novel. His argument was that a chief actor who does things and feels things is necessary to the artform. I thought that was a strange stance to make, and that hardly anything constrains what we can call "a novel" other than length and some fictitious element. He disagreed and said that I'm choosing to render the word "novel" essentially meaningless, and that if I wanted to write a non-novel or anti-novel that was okay, but I shouldn't call it a novel.
Anyway, that's all interesting and I'm a bit curious on who's in the right, but more germane to Ask MeFi, I had trouble coming up with examples of novels where there is no protagonist, or no clear protagonist anyway. Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities
seems to fit the bill, but there's the loose protagonist of Marco Polo narrating. David Markson (This Is Not A Novel
) also has narrators hiding behind his lists of facts and such. The examples I could think of are Dictionary of the Khazars
, and Oulipian
techniques (Georges Perec?)
So what are some other examples? And if you're able to weigh in on this "definition of a novel" thing, feel free.