Seeking original, unique, oddball novels and stories
October 21, 2008 1:51 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite unconventional novels and short stories?

In particular, I am interested in works told in unique ways, such as through correspondence, journal entries, marginalia, footnotes, diaries, multiple narrators, textual/visual manipulation and other unclassifiable approaches to novel writing.
posted by mizrachi to Writing & Language (74 answers total) 99 users marked this as a favorite
Never read it, but it sounds like House of Leaves would qualify.

I once read something called Exegesis which is written as a series of emails between a young woman studying computer programming and the AI program that becomes self-aware and escapes onto the Internet at large.

Let me keep thinking.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:57 PM on October 21, 2008

I just finished reading Watch Your Mouth by Daniel Handler. The first part is written like a description of an opera. The second part is written like a self-help book. The story is cohesive.

However, I must say, it has some extremely intense adult themes (including incest).
posted by General Malaise at 1:59 PM on October 21, 2008

I'm not sure if this is quite what you mean, but it is one of my favorites...

The Yellow Wallpaper
posted by vernondalhart at 2:01 PM on October 21, 2008

The narrator of Martin Amis' Time's Arrow experiences time backwards.
posted by googly at 2:02 PM on October 21, 2008

A Clockwork Orange is brilliant - going from barely understanding the first couple of pages to thinking in a made-up language by the end.
posted by pompomtom at 2:02 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Griffin and Sabine series tells a love story/mystery through the correspondence of the two characters. And the whole thing is written on beautiful postcards, notecards, etc. that are incorporated into the book. It's a story, with art.

The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia fits your criteria in ways I can't even really describe properly. Columns of text from several narrators, text blacked out because it makes sense to do so, and more.
posted by vytae at 2:11 PM on October 21, 2008

Check out Ella Minnow Pea, which is written in letters composed of an increasingly restricted subset of alphabetic characters.

The other thing that came to mind was The People of Paper, which has a character who is able to shield thoughts from the otherwise omniscient narrator, and whose ability is represented by solid black blotches covering portions of the text.
posted by moift at 2:11 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

pompomtom: You do realize that the language in A Clockwork Orange isn't really made up, but nearly all taken from Russian?
posted by vernondalhart at 2:12 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Moby Dick.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:13 PM on October 21, 2008

Oh, and Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski, same guy who wrote the previously-mentioned House of Leaves. It's the same story told by 2 narrators, on opposing pages. The guy's version reads from back to front, and the girl's version from front to back. Or vice versa, depending on which way you're holding the book. Plus there's weird colors to certain bits of text and stuff in the margins that I never quite figured out.
posted by vytae at 2:14 PM on October 21, 2008

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. It's written in the form of progress reports or diary-like entries and shows extreme changes in writing ability and thought process. One of my favorite short stories of all time.
posted by ashirys at 2:14 PM on October 21, 2008

I wanted to second the stuff by Danielewski(House of Leaves and Only Revolutions), and also thank you for posting this question.
posted by owtytrof at 2:18 PM on October 21, 2008

Rant by Chuck Palahniuk is written entirely the format of an oral history.
posted by kpmcguire at 2:19 PM on October 21, 2008

Nicholson Baker's Vox isn't necessarily a great book, but it fits the bill: the entire novel is a conversation between two people who meet on a phone sex party line.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:25 PM on October 21, 2008

Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic. Not only is it a history of a fictional people in the form of a lexicon (the entries can be read piecemeal in any order), but there are two separate versions: male and female.

I've meant to read If On a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino for years. It's told from different points of view, nonlinearly, and the stories shift without warning but form a cohesive tale. So I'm told.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 2:26 PM on October 21, 2008

Nicholson Baker is famous for this. The Mezzanine is chock full of footnotes, Vox uses all dialogue, as does Checkpoint.
posted by ALongDecember at 2:29 PM on October 21, 2008

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell? It's a good matryoshka doll of a novel narrated by multiple characters through multiple time periods, and it includes a bunch of the devices you've mentioned.
posted by ausdemfenster at 2:30 PM on October 21, 2008

I think (?) The Glass Bead Game by Hermanne Hesse might qualify. I second House of Leaves as perhaps sounding more like what you might be after, but the question seems pretty open.

Do reviews of fictional books count? A Perfect Vacuum by Stanislaw Lem is good:

The book contains reviews of 16 imaginary books and one real book: itself.
posted by Wreath Ass at 2:33 PM on October 21, 2008

Brief interviews with hideous men
posted by icarus at 2:37 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here's a great list from Amazon. It includes a book of only questions, a book without the letter "e", and a book written as an instruction manual.

Dear American Airlines is a book written in the form as an angry letter to, you guessed it, American Airlines.

Also: Nick Hornby. About a Boy has two narrators and A Long Way Down has 4.
posted by ALongDecember at 2:38 PM on October 21, 2008

Oh! Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. It's a novella about Marco Polo and Genghis Kahn told as a travelogue, with short descriptions of imaginary cities Marco Polo "visited" in Kahn's kingdom.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:39 PM on October 21, 2008

ashirys suggestion of "Flowers for Algernon" reminded me of what a wonderful poignant book it is.
posted by lungtaworld at 2:40 PM on October 21, 2008

CS Lewis's The Screwtape Letters comes to mind.

Also, Grisham's The Testament changes from first person to third person after a significant event early in the book.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 2:40 PM on October 21, 2008

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Fifteen different narrators, steam of consciousness.

The Sound and the Fury also by William Faulkner.

The Age of Wire and String by Ben Markus.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

Anything by David Foster Wallace.
posted by luckypozzo at 2:46 PM on October 21, 2008

Trainspotting, by Irvine Welch. It is written in first person format with multiple characters telling their own stories. Each character has their own Scottish dialect and affect. It's hard to understand some characters at first because of the language, but just like A Clockwork Orange you may find yourself incorporating the slang to your own conversations.

I also like World War Z by Max Brooks. It's a fictional collection of interviews of the survivors of the "Zombie Holocaust."(Yes, dead walking around zombies.)
posted by sharkhunt at 2:57 PM on October 21, 2008

Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman - It might be a little corny these days, but it perfectly fits the bill. I liked it when I read it in high school.

I'd also venture to say Watchmen, what with the comic within the story and all the additional documentation/letters/articles/etc.
posted by faunafrailty at 3:05 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've never been able to get over the weirdness of "A Void", Georges Perec's odd novel that never uses the letter "e". And, it was written, originally, in French, and translated into English. Jeepers.

Oh, and of course, Borges' "Ficciones" is great for mind-warping fun. Most of the short stories contained therein read like essays, which makes them even cooler to me.
posted by elmer benson at 3:05 PM on October 21, 2008

David Markson's Reader's Block is made up almost entirely of quotes from other authors and other biographical minutia.
posted by cropshy at 3:09 PM on October 21, 2008

Feeling Sorry for Celia, The Year of Secret Assignments, and The Murder of Bindy McKenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty. She uses IM conversations, emails, post-it notes, notes to self, notes passed in class, any written means that isn't traditional story telling. And they're all wonderful books, too. Each one better than the last. And the first is pretty damn good. This is YA fiction (Young Adult), and if you have a bias against that that's really too bad, because these are excellent, well-realized, touching, funny, engaging stories. I couldn't put any of them down.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:12 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I love these kinds of books! The literary movement you're looking for is Oulipo, and many of the authors mentioned above fit in this category. Strong seconding to House of Leaves, and anything by Italo Calvino or Milorad Pavic.

I'm also a big fan of Georges Perec: Life: A User's Manual and A Void (the Vowls gather together, but one of their number has been murdered... the book is written without the letter E).

Mark Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea sounds good, although I haven't read it yet, but I enjoyed his Ibid: A Life, a novel told entirely in endnotes, without the accompanying text.

Also fun is Exercises in Style, by Raymond Queneau.

For interesting narration, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is well worth it, as is the abovementioned The Yellow Wallpaper.

If you can track down a copy, the Codex Seraphinianus is highly creative.

Epistolary novels (novels written as a series of letters) are an old-fashioned but interesting read, particularly in Gothic literature: try Frankenstein, Dracula, or The Woman in White. Nick Bantock's visual epistolaries are really nifty, also.
posted by Paragon at 3:16 PM on October 21, 2008

Pale Fire.
posted by shadow vector at 3:17 PM on October 21, 2008

2nding As I Lay Dying. It was the absolute strangest book I've ever read. My mother is a fish.
posted by majikstreet at 3:24 PM on October 21, 2008

Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes.

253 by Geoff Ryman.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:25 PM on October 21, 2008

Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar, where the chapters can be read in different orders (my recollection is that the author suggests several).
posted by gteffertz at 3:31 PM on October 21, 2008

Would The Invention of Hugo Cabret qualify? Described by its author as "not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things."

Anyway, it's beautiful and well worth checking out.
posted by chez shoes at 3:34 PM on October 21, 2008

The Coon Rolled Down and Ruptured His Larinks, A Squeezed Novel by Mr. Skunk by Dafydd ab Hugh. Unsettling enough that it took me days to get it out of my head. A favorite nonetheless.
posted by Bernt Pancreas at 3:35 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

To go with a classic, Dracula is written entirely in the form of diary entries, letters and newspaper clippings. It's pretty great.
posted by ictow at 3:35 PM on October 21, 2008

C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters is written as a series of letters. Maybe not the best of these kind of novels, but it is a classic. Apparently there's a sequel of sorts in the same vein.
posted by elendil71 at 3:38 PM on October 21, 2008

Oulipo was mentioned above, but McSweeney's 22 had a lot of unpublished work by that movement.

Thomas Pnychon is a master of multiple narrators and stylistic tricks. V. follows two main characters whose stories gradually move closer to one another, ala the letter V. Don't forget the daddy of this format James Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake.

The earlier forms of novels were commonly epistolary, which a highlight may be Clarissa, written in 1748. It is also excruciatingly long (and not very good).

Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman is one of the first novels to use unusual devices in narration and style. It is the precursor of stream-of-consciousness techniques.
posted by rabbitsnake at 3:43 PM on October 21, 2008

posted by Mrs. Buck Turgidson at 3:44 PM on October 21, 2008

Joyce? Ulysses or Finnegan's Wake.
posted by pised at 3:45 PM on October 21, 2008

The Manuscript Found in Sargossa is another genre-spanning work that curiously was translated from original French into Polish, then into English.
posted by rabbitsnake at 3:47 PM on October 21, 2008

Shadow Unit is not exactly a novel, but may fit your criteria. I personally haven't dared read too far beyond the front page in case it eats my brain, but Emma Bull (one of its authors) explains it a little more here: fan fiction for a show that didn't exist.
posted by Lebannen at 3:47 PM on October 21, 2008

nthing House of Leaves
posted by Zarkonnen at 4:28 PM on October 21, 2008

Seconding the aforementioned Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler. Really great book. Also Riddley Walker and Dolores Claiborne, which isn't that weird, but does have the distinction of being a 400 page novel with no chapter breaks.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:37 PM on October 21, 2008

+1 for Pale Fire, which is awesome.
-1 for If on winter's night..., not because it doesn't fit, but because it sucks.
+1 for The Sound and the Fury.
-1 for A Confederacy of Dunces, because it doesn't really fit. But also +1, because it is amazing.
posted by equalpants at 4:41 PM on October 21, 2008

In addition to seconding many things already noted:

Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer. Gothic novel told through umpteen different narratives (sort-of cf. Manuscript Found in Saragossa).

W. M. Thackeray's The History of Henry Esmond. An autobiography making plentiful use of dramatic irony; watch out for various grumpy figures from his life popping into the footnotes to complain.

Charles Dickens' Bleak House. Double narrator, one in the third person (speaking in present tense) and one in the first (speaking in past tense).

Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Epistolary novel, lots of sexual intrigue.

George Meredith's Modern Love. Sixteen-line sonnets gathered into a verse novel.

Sarah Fielding's and Jane Collier's The Cry: A Dramatic Fable. A drama-novel hybrid. (Sarah Fielding is Henry's sister.)

Sir Walter Scott, Redgauntlet. Alternate history, nineteenth-century style, featuring both epistolary narration (which Scott eventually abandons) and an inset short story, "Wandering Willie's Tale" (now probably more famous than the rest of the book).

Off the top of my head, some much more recent stuff:

Joseph O'Connor's Star of the Sea and Redemption Falls. Both historical novels that consist of all sorts of "fragments" (fake ballads, diaries, newspaper articles, "scholarly works," monologues...).

Joshua Harmon's Quinnehtukqut. Another historical novel composed out of fragmentary sources.

J. M. Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year. Three narratives going on at the same time, on the same page.

Adam Thorpe's Ulverton. The passage of centuries in a fictional English village, as rendered through multiple voices.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:45 PM on October 21, 2008

Anything by (MeFi's Own!) CheeseBurgerBrown. He writes each chapter as a blog post, receiving comments and feedback before publishing - some as books, some online.
posted by niles at 4:47 PM on October 21, 2008

Possession, by A.S. Byatt contains two large chunks of narrative in the form of letters and diaries.

I feel like I've read other books that fit your request but can't think of any right now.
posted by pombe at 4:50 PM on October 21, 2008

Previously. Ordeal by Cheque. I loved this when I first saw it. Very quick read and worth cheque ing (pun intended) it out.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:52 PM on October 21, 2008

Kiln People by David Brin is a really thought provoking science fiction novel set in a world where people can make clay copies of themselves to take care of menial (or not so menial) tasks. The point of view jumps around from the "rig", the original person, to his "dittos" throughout the book.

Also, a really old example, the Decameron by Bocaccio. Ten Italian citizens flee the Black Plague into the countryside and, to pass the time, each day each character tells a story following a common theme for a total of 100 short stories.
posted by JaredSeth at 4:53 PM on October 21, 2008

The list of answers to this question is so potentially long that you have to wonder if formally inventive fiction is really that unconventional.

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales: An unfinished work in which a group of pilgrims en route to a holy site pass the time telling stories, each of which is stylistically distinct as befits the teller's class, profession, and personality. I know, it's not fiction, but, hey, it's narrative.

Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel: An episodic series of adventures often broken by sprawling, ridiculous lists (for example). Bizarre and scatological, funny and humane.

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels: Hoax travelogue of a simpleton who is separated from his ship and encounters many wondrous things on his journey, such as talking, ratiocinative horses and people who live in a flying island and are so immersed in their thoughts that their servants have to squeeze whoopee cushions at them to keep them from falling off precipices. See also Swift's Tale of a Tub, which I can't even begin to describe.

Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy: The fictional autobiography of a man so prone to digression that it takes two billion pages before he's even finished writing about his birth.

Denis Diderot, Jacques the Fatalist: A valet recounts his love life to his master while constantly being interrupted by the intrusions of other stories. The crabby narrator, meanwhile, is prone to irritation and sometimes refuses to tell the reader what's happening.

Jan Potocki, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa: Stories within stories within stories within stories...

E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr: A literate housecat's memoirs, written over the scraps of a composer's biography, such that the two texts are intercut with one another.

James Joyce, Ulysses: One day in 1904 Dublin, from early morning to late at night. Begins by following the interior monologues of two men, but shortly blasts off into a dizzying range of styles. For example, one chapter resembles a catechism, another looks like a play.

Flann O'Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds: A slovenly university student writes a novel about a man writing a novel. The characters of the novel-in-a-novel, among whom are King Sweeney of Irish legend and a pack of pulp fiction cowboys, resent their lack of freedom and plot their revenge on the novelist-in-the-novel.

William Carlos Williams, Spring and All: Both a book of poetry and a manifesto.

Anything by Donald Barthelme. John Barth. Jorge Luis Borges. William Burroughs. Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions. Julio Cortazar's Cronopio and Famas. Gilbert Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew. Gene Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus. Felipe Alfau's Locos.
posted by cobra libre at 4:54 PM on October 21, 2008

I was young and heartbroken when I read it, but I remember being quite affected by Ferlinghetti's Her, a long, experimental prose poem (or a short, surrealist novel) written in stream of consciousness/dream writing.
posted by steef at 5:18 PM on October 21, 2008

Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister.
posted by 1016 at 5:21 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Omnibus, a collection of short stories by Roald Dahl. Many of them twist in a classic O. Henry way but they are endlessly entertaining regardless. And I'll second Italo Calvino's "If On A Winter's Night a Traveler." You the reader are a character and that's very unique.
posted by cachondeo45 at 5:26 PM on October 21, 2008

Wikipedia article on constrained writing.
posted by mandal at 5:29 PM on October 21, 2008


Georges Perec
posted by mandal at 5:31 PM on October 21, 2008

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

From Wikipedia:
"He uses type settings, spaces and even blank pages to give the book a visual dimension beyond the prose narrative. The photographs one narrator takes appear in the book as if inserted into a diary, and in the visual trick that made this book famous, Foer makes a flip book in the final pages out of photographer Lyle Owerko's shot of the Falling Man, making the man who had jumped from the burning World Trade Center appear as though he is falling up."
posted by wsquared at 6:14 PM on October 21, 2008

A Humument
With Thames and Hudson's first trade edition in 1980 A HUMUMENT rapidly became a cult classic. It was seen to be a defining product of post modernism linking traditions as various as medieval illumination, experimental poetry and non-linear narrative with the procedures of modern art.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:21 PM on October 21, 2008

If you're cool enough not to turn up your nose at fan fiction, there are two stories I can think of that are quite worth checking out. And hey, they're online to read for free!

The first is an "Iron Man" story called "The Kids Aren't All Right" written as a "Vanity Fair" profile of Tony Stark. It would help if you've seen the movie version before reading this, as there layered reference to the film in there, not the least of which is that the journalist is a character in the movie, which colors how certain aspects of her article are presented. (See also accompanying Metafilter discussion of the piece.)

The second is a Sherlock Holmes story called "Sub Rosa" involving telegrams, letters, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera passed between Holmes and Mycroft during and after the period of Holmes' "death" at Reichenbach Falls.
posted by Asparagirl at 6:49 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

The U.S.A. Trilogy is the major work of American writer John Dos Passos, comprising the novels The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919, also known as Nineteen Nineteen (1932), and The Big Money (1936). The three books were first published together as a one-volume edition in 1938, to which Dos Passos added the prologue labeled "U.S.A." The trilogy employs an experimental technique, incorporating four different narrative modes: fictional narratives telling the life stories of twelve fictional characters; collages of newspaper clippings and song lyrics labeled Newsreel; individually labeled short biographies of public figures of the time such as Woodrow Wilson and Henry Ford; and fragments of an autobiographical stream of consciousness labeled Camera Eye. The trilogy covers the historical development of American society during the first three decades of the twentieth century.

"The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins is sometimes thought of as the first detective story. It is told in first person by multiple narrators.

"The Gods Themselves" by Issac Asimov starts with Chapter 6.

"The Extra Man" by Jonathan Ames is a straight-forward comic novel (and one of my favorites). "Wake Up, Sir" is another Jonathan Ames novel. In this second novel, the main character seems to be the author of "The Extra Man." "Wake Up, Sir" also has a rather unique relationship with P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves stories.

Martin Amis is a minor character in "Money" by Martin Amis. I've never read any of Philip Roth's novels, though I keep meaning to, but I understand he also makes cameos in his books.

"A Kiss Before Dying" by Ira Levin employs an amazingly subtle literary device (that would be impossible to replicate on film) to allow you to both know and not know the identity of a murderer.

"War and Peace" is a novel interwoven with essays. So is "Moby Dick."
posted by grumblebee at 7:29 PM on October 21, 2008

Chimera, Lost in the Funhouse- John Barth
Cosmicomics- Italo Calvino
Breakfast of Champions- Vonnegut
Flaubert's Parrot-Julian Barnes
As I Lay Dying- Faulkner
In Our Time-Hemingway
Les Liaisons dangereuses
Tracks- Louise Erdrich
Hardboiledwonderland and the End of the World-Murakami
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting- Kundera

Pale Fire- Nabokov (probably the most debated and discussed, super-academic, meta-novel)
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 10:23 PM on October 21, 2008

I know this isn't exactly what you're looking for, but I think any good academic would throw In Cold Blood in the mix, just on principle.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 10:26 PM on October 21, 2008

B. S. Johnson's novel The Unfortunates is in 27 parts, each printed on a separate pamphlet or a loose leaf. The reader is instructed to shuffle all but two of these sections (the first and the last) into random order...
posted by misteraitch at 12:14 AM on October 22, 2008

The White Hotel by D.M.Thomas - I love this book, it starts off as a poem, continues into a Freudian analysis, finishes in prose, and is occasionally filthy
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:05 AM on October 22, 2008

Shriek: an Afterword and City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer.
posted by cog_nate at 6:58 AM on October 22, 2008

The Last Samurai, by Helen DeWitt.
posted by languagehat at 8:04 AM on October 22, 2008

Some of the stories in Demonology, by Rick Moody, fit your criteria. "Wilkie Fahnstock: The Boxed Set" is told in the form of liner notes. "Surplus Value Books: Catalogue Number 13" is told in the form of an auction catalogue. He's got a lot more like that.

Many of Steven Millhauser's stories fit too: "A Game of Clue" and "Klassic Komix #1," both in The Barnum Museum, are told as--well, you guess. The story "The Barnum Museum," as well as "The Sisterhood of Night" (in The Knife Thrower) and many of his other works are told in numbered or subtitled parts.

Robert Olen Butler has several collections of structural weirdness. In Intercourse, each short piece focuses on the thoughts of copulating couples (e.g. Napoleon and Josephine, Bonnie and Clyde). In Severance, each piece contains the dying thoughts of someone decapitated (John the Baptist, Medusa, St. George, his dragon), and each is exactly 240 words long--the length Butler calculates a decapitated head could think before oxygen runs out.

The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss, is partly a conventional narrative, but it also involves lists, fragments of a fictional novel, etc.

If it's footnotes you're after, try:

Pale Fire (the "main text" of the book is theoretically a poem by a fictional poet, but the bulk of the novel is composed of endnotes on that poem by another fictional writer... sounds weird, but it's Nabokov; try it out...)

Kiss of the Spider Woman, by Manuel Puig, where the footnotes are an integral part of the text

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, which is not exactly told through footnotes, but again, the footnotes are an integral part of the novel

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
posted by Ms. Informed at 12:40 PM on October 22, 2008

William S. Burroughs uses some pretty damn unconventional narrative techniques in most of his fiction. Google for "cut-up technique" for an example of one of his practices. I love Burroughs' work—he's a genius—but unless I'm in the just right mood I find much of it unreadable. Burroughs doesn't write for the entertainment of his readers; his fiction is built to do a job—like a machine or a virus.

You might also want to look at Jorge Luis Borges. He does some pretty unconventional stuff as well, but his work tends to be more readable (and entertaining) than Burroughs. I may have some of the details of this story wrong, but Borges was once asked in an interview why he had never written a novel. Borges replied that it seemed like a lot of extra effort when he could simply write a review/analysis of the (non-existent) novel for much the same effect. The short story collection Borges: Collected Fictions is a fantastic value. Borges is one of the best authors I've discovered in recent years.
posted by paulg at 9:26 AM on October 23, 2008

Sophie's World. It is a book about a girl who finds out that she is a character in a book. It is the most interesting book I ever read and very unconventional.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 12:16 AM on October 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh! And Bret Easton Ellis's autobiography, which I can not recall the name of. Its half an autobiogaphy and half fiction. He sometimes interacts with the fictional characters he created for other books. Super weird stuff.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 12:20 AM on October 26, 2008

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is told as if it is an academic biography written sometime in the 1800s, complete with extensive footnotes and spelling that may be correct to the period.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:43 PM on October 26, 2008

Graham Rawle's Woman's World is a wonderful collage-novel built up entirely of words cut out from 1960s womens magazines. There are a couple of example pages here.
posted by misteraitch at 2:11 AM on December 16, 2008

This is one of the best threads I have ever read. Thanks for the question and the answers.

The visual display of Quantitative information is one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen. It isn't a novel but fits the original and unique criteria.

Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is written entirely in dialect, which is fun.

The Artemis Fowl books have a cipher to solve along the way.

Flatland is another that sticks with me.
posted by mearls at 4:30 PM on June 20, 2009

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