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August 1, 2005 9:39 PM   Subscribe

i need more sprawling post-modern novels NOW!

i've read all of pynchon, much of beckett's stuff, delillo's underworld, infinite jest, house of leaves, and i just started on murakami (already read norwegian wood (decidedly not-sprawling), wind up bird, and hardboiled wonderland). any other books that earn a "wow" from people in the know when you tell them you've read em? an equally important requirement is that they actually be readable... i still can't do joyce.
posted by dj_fraudulent to Writing & Language (66 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'd go for almost everything by Italo Calvino (but specifically I'd recommend 'Invisible Cities').
posted by AwkwardPause at 9:43 PM on August 1, 2005

Response by poster: ooh yeah, forgot about calvino. i've read If on a winter's night a traveller and it remains one of the best books I've ever read.
posted by dj_fraudulent at 9:44 PM on August 1, 2005

Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:45 PM on August 1, 2005

DeLillo's White Noise and Mao II are as post-modern as they get. If you liked Underworld you might give those two a spin.
posted by Rothko at 9:46 PM on August 1, 2005

Don't forget Samuel Delany's Dhalgren.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:53 PM on August 1, 2005

While we're on the topic of Delillo, my favorite is The Names.

Why not turn to postcolonial lit. If you haven't read Rushdie's Midnight's Children yet, you should.

wait... why are we bringing up Joyce in the context of postmodern literature?
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:58 PM on August 1, 2005

Gaddis. Lowry. Barth.
posted by drpynchon at 9:59 PM on August 1, 2005

Journey to the End of the Night, Death on the Installment Plan by Celine

best books youll ever read
posted by Satapher at 10:01 PM on August 1, 2005

Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled and John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor are two of my favorite books. Both are very postmodern and very sprawling. I recommend them wholeheartedly. Also take a look at Robert Coover's The Public Burning and William Gass's The Tunnel.
posted by painquale at 10:05 PM on August 1, 2005

Response by poster: wait... why are we bringing up Joyce in the context of postmodern literature?

i always seem to get him recommended to me when i ask this question. i was preemptively ruling it out, just in case people forgot the postmodern part of the question (for that matter, beckett shouldn't be on the list, either).
posted by dj_fraudulent at 10:08 PM on August 1, 2005

Seconding Foucault's Pendulum, and adding Stand on Zanzibar, wherein all of the characters' motives are revealed in the first couple of pages through a proto-internet/sentient Google-like system, written in 1968.
posted by interrobang at 10:24 PM on August 1, 2005

haven't read it myself, but david foster wallace's infinite jest sounds like it fits the bill.
posted by ori at 11:05 PM on August 1, 2005

George Perec's "Life: A User's Manual" - apparently Perec himself doesn't like being called a postmodernist, but I find it hard to look at this book as anything other than postmodern. And it's sprawling enough for the author to consider it not a novel, but "novels", even though it's just one, fat book.
posted by bunglin jones at 11:12 PM on August 1, 2005

Paul Auster, Nicholson Baker, maybe David Eggers. Perhaps not quite as dense as Gravity's Rainbow but I think each brings something you will like.

Borges, Woolf and yes... Joyce. These are the foundation upon which post-modern literature was built. Do not dismiss that too easily. You could also just go read some Derrida and get it over with.
posted by sophist at 11:38 PM on August 1, 2005

William Gaddis.
posted by bobo123 at 11:53 PM on August 1, 2005

Joyce's 'The Dubliners' is relatively accessable, although not sprawling or post-modern. Still very, very good writing.

Not all Joyce is incomrehensible ;)
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:55 PM on August 1, 2005

also, I'm not sure if this fits quite into this category, but Sometimes a Great Notion (Kesey) is one of the best books I have read in my life. It jumps around quite a bit, switches point of view & time without warning/signals, etc.

Chances are you won't understand it if you've never been west though. Its a bitch of a book, and if its not in your backyard, it loses its punch.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:59 PM on August 1, 2005

I second Gaddis; alternatively you may want to look at older stuff that was "postmodern" before postmodern existed: Jakob von Guten by Robert Walser (or The Robber); Tristam Shandy; or even the short stories of Borges, especially those in the Aleph.
posted by sic at 12:47 AM on August 2, 2005

Oh, and Nabakov's Pale Fire is quite pomo.
posted by sic at 12:48 AM on August 2, 2005

Oh, and I just glanced at my bookshelf: if you want sprawling, try William T. Vollman's You Bright and Risen Angels (his first book, a flawed masterpiece) or The Royal Family. Also his 7 dreams series (of which there are 4) The Ice Shirt, The Rifles, The Crows, Argall...
posted by sic at 12:51 AM on August 2, 2005

Rushdie! Rushdie! Rushdie! If you like music, start with Ground Beneath Her Feet. If you like history, start with Midnight's Children. Both are huge and freakin' fantastic.
posted by Marquis at 1:50 AM on August 2, 2005

Luther Blissett's "Q" is a great book. Written by 4 anonymous italians naming themselves after a bloke who used to play for Watford, to boot.
posted by handee at 3:02 AM on August 2, 2005

Rushdie! The Moor's Last Sigh.
posted by Pericles at 4:24 AM on August 2, 2005

Barth Barth Barth! Giles Goat-Boy, The Sot-weed Factor, and LETTERS
posted by gleuschk at 4:29 AM on August 2, 2005

Yeah, I was going to say Nabokov: not, strictly speaking, a 'postmodernist,' but definitely somewhat in the zone you're describing, and a big genius. Try 'Ada, or Ardor' and 'Pale Fire.'

As for Joyce--he is definitely a high modernist, but he's one of those high modernists who shows how blurry the distinction between modernism and postmodernism can be. Buy 'The Bloomsday Book' and give 'Ulysses' another shot if ou want something really sprawling.
posted by josh at 4:47 AM on August 2, 2005

Mark Helprin (A Winter's Tale is beautiful but flawed, Memoir from Antproof Case is more cohesive, but both are worth reading). For "post-modern before it was cool", check out Flann O'Brien, especially The Third Policeman.
posted by Gortuk at 4:51 AM on August 2, 2005

I second Delilo's The Names, I've read it about 10 times.

William Gaddis's The Recognitions is unreal fantastic but you have got to be on top of your game to do it.
posted by n9 at 4:58 AM on August 2, 2005

Michael Houellebecq (example "The Elementary Particles") and Jeannette Winterson (example "Written on The Body"). These French cats have a sprawing thing goin' on.
posted by rainbaby at 5:01 AM on August 2, 2005

Second (ooh! ooh!) Mark Helprin - thanks, Gortuk. Memoir from Antproof Case is quite good, but I was literally brought to tears (happy and sad) by A Soldier of the Great War. And this is my first post, if anybody cares. :) What an amazing site!

posted by ZakDaddy at 5:16 AM on August 2, 2005

I've had long arguments about Houellebecq with friends in pubs, and have come to the conclusion that whilst I think his books are misogynistic oversimplistic slightly racist shite, other people whose opinions I respect quite like them.

I'm certain he's not in the same category as Pynchon, David Foster Wallace or DeLillo.

Jeanette winterson's not French, either.
posted by handee at 5:23 AM on August 2, 2005

The Death of Virgil By Hermann Broch. The densest, potentially most frustrating, great stream-of-consciousness novel you'll ever read.

JR by William Gaddis. A work of genius.

Hopeful Monsters by Nicholas Moseley. The very definition of a sprawling, intellectual novel. Personally, I've not been enamoured with Mosely's other work, but this one has always stayed with me...
posted by Chrischris at 5:47 AM on August 2, 2005

Gadddis for sure, Tristram Shandy is crucial, Don Quixote is pretty important as a referent.

It's nice to see Moseley on the list, too many people forget him.

Perec is good to read (but dead, so should be referred to in the past tense), try Harry Mathews or other OuLiPo writers. Mathews is my favorite.
posted by OmieWise at 6:03 AM on August 2, 2005

*Gaddis* (And I meant to say to start with The Recognitions.
posted by OmieWise at 6:03 AM on August 2, 2005

Neal Stephenson - Cryptonomicon, and the more recent trilogy, practically define sprawl.
posted by zadcat at 6:16 AM on August 2, 2005

Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pynchon
posted by adamvasco at 6:24 AM on August 2, 2005

Alasdair Gray's Lanark.

and props to ikkyu2 for the delany mention!
posted by By The Grace of God at 6:36 AM on August 2, 2005

I see lots of DeLillo recs, but none for 'Running Dogs' which was actually my favorite of his. His work parallels Pynchon a bit too closely for my tastes ('Underworld' and 'Gravity's Rainbow' in particular, with their running scatological ruminations), so 'Running Dogs' would be DeLillo's 'Vineland' (sometimes my favorite Pynchon). My wife read 'Argall' and liked it pretty well. A short, not-so-sprawling, but definitely po-mo pirate tale is 'Fishboy' by Mark Richards.
posted by dirtmonster at 6:42 AM on August 2, 2005

Donald Barthelme. Read through a few stories on this page [self link] and if you like them, go out and get 40 Stories, 60 Stories, or Amateurs which are all great, readable, and truly postmodern. He won't get too much "wow" effect but if you pass on his stories to people, they usually appreciate them. A few other names: Robert Coover, Kathy Acker, Mark Leyner and a big yes yes yes to Borges.
posted by jessamyn at 6:43 AM on August 2, 2005

Oops! I'm logged in as my wife. Holy Identity-Crisis, Batman! (Slothrop)
posted by dirtmonster at 6:43 AM on August 2, 2005

Sorry, here is corrected Death Of Virgil link.
posted by Chrischris at 6:45 AM on August 2, 2005

I've had long arguments about Houellebecq with friends in pubs, and have come to the conclusion that whilst I think his books are misogynistic oversimplistic slightly racist shite, other people whose opinions I respect quite like them.

I just finished reading The Elementary Particles and found it to be one of the worst books I've ever read by a smart writer. French rationalism showing its worst face; that is, when taken to its extreme a fairly brilliant idea becomes horribly repugnant. He is a very smart writer though and it helps to stomach his misanthropy (even more so than misogyny) if you see everything as an ironic reverse criticism. If that makes any sense. Then again, maybe just genetically eliminating of all sexual and racial differences and plurality among human beings really is the answer to happiness...

Or not ;)
posted by sic at 6:52 AM on August 2, 2005

Someone mentioned some of his other stuff, but Vollmann's The Rainbow Stories is brilliant. Also, while far from sprawling, O'Brien's The Things They Carried is quite pomo and one of the best things I have ever read.
posted by rtimmel at 7:55 AM on August 2, 2005

Any Richard Powers fans out there?

I've read The Gold Bug Variations, Galetea 2.2, and In The Time of Our Singing. I'm not good with categories, i.e. Don'Kno PoMo from FroYo, but his stuff is sprawling and quite good.
posted by sol at 8:02 AM on August 2, 2005

John Crowley's Aegypt/Love & Sleep/Daemonomania.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 8:30 AM on August 2, 2005

Fair enough, but Houellebecq is sprawling, readable, and may get you a wow.
posted by rainbaby at 9:12 AM on August 2, 2005

You should have already read Slaughterhouse 5 and Catch-22.
You may not have read Hopscotch, by Julio Cortazar.
Bartholme also wrote City Stories, which is another collection of short stories that interlock. I recommend it over 40 Stories, mostly because most of the best stories in 40 Stories come from City Stories.
The Amatuers is also good.
posted by klangklangston at 10:00 AM on August 2, 2005

Robert Musil - A Man Without Qualities

Big, sprawling, provocative. Not exactly postmodern though.
posted by johnny novak at 11:09 AM on August 2, 2005

If you like Beckett's novels, you'll probably like anything and everything by B.S. Johnson.

I'm midway through The Unfortunates at the moment, and the writing is absolutely stunning. Also, it comes in a box with 27 unbound sections that readers are asked to shuffle before they begin reading, which is, you know, quite cool.

And I'll second the mention of Lanark - most Alisdair Grey is well worth reading, though not all fits your sprawling requirement so well.
posted by jack_mo at 12:20 PM on August 2, 2005

Let's list some more precursors.

Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Fran├žois Rabelais, is a sprawling, smutty, hilarious, marvelous mess of a novel from the late middle ages/early renaissance. The edition I read was translated by Burton Raffel, and it's exquisite. I've read passages from it out loud to my girlfriend, and she's convinced that it's a book for puerile 12-year old boys, but don't let that dissuade you.

If you like frame tales (stories in stories in stories...), then you owe it to yourself to read The 1,001 Nights (or The Arabian Nights or The Thousand Nights and a Night) if you haven't already, and you might also like Jan Potocki's Manuscript Found in Saragossa.

Moving into the first half of the 20th century, there's Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman and Felipe Alfau's Locos, three early masterpieces of metafiction. (Actually, I'm not sure if I buy the argument of The Third Policeman as metafiction, but worth reading regardless.) All three are funny and superbly written; the Alfau book is actually moving at times.

None of those three books are "sprawling," however; I don't think any of them are longer than 200 pages. Besides the books already mentioned in this thread, there's Guillermo Cabrera Infante's Three Trapped Tigers, which I haven't read, but it looks like it might fill your need for a giant slab of difficult prose. Then there's Gilbert Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew, which I have read -- it seems to follow directly from Rabelais, Flann O'Brien, and god knows what else. I think it goes on for at least a hundred pages past its welcome, but it's one of the funniest books I've ever read nonetheless.
posted by cobra libre at 1:32 PM on August 2, 2005

The Dalkey Archive Press catalog will keep you in post-modern sprawl for a while; they've published or reprinted some of the authors already mentioned.

I'd suggest these for starters;

Mr. Dynamite by Meredith Brosnan. Aging Irish boho in NYC sends ihis life down the tubes, sort of a punk rock version of the Third Policeman.

Cigarettes by Harry Matthews. The perversions of an extended circle of New Yorkers.

For Paul Auster, go for Leviathan. And how about Martin Amis' London Fields?
posted by bendybendy at 2:20 PM on August 2, 2005

I don't go for the DeLillos posted here so far so much; haven't read The Names yet. But I'd at least chime in that certainly Ratner's Star, Libra, Mao II, and for dessert, White Noise, are a good bit of sprawl.

Especially taken together.
posted by rleamon at 5:04 PM on August 2, 2005

On post -- The Tin Drum works too. Tap tap tap...
posted by rleamon at 5:05 PM on August 2, 2005

Response by poster: wow... thank you all!

i am going to powells in portland this weekend and am printing this thread out before i go.
posted by dj_fraudulent at 9:24 PM on August 2, 2005

If you decide to get some Auster read The New York Trilogy, it is considered his most important work. After that, read In the Country of Last Things, The Music of Chance and the Invention of Solitude. If you still want more, read his great book of essays called The Art of Hunger. The rest of his work is kind of average, in my opinion.
posted by sic at 2:30 AM on August 3, 2005

What about The Atrocity Exhibition by J.G.Ballard? Or, heck.. anything by J.G. Ballard.. he does it all from 4 page mini stories up to sprawling dystopian landscapes.
posted by wackybrit at 9:00 AM on August 3, 2005

i'll admit i don't know much about PoMo as a movement, but let me say that nabokov's pale fire is a wonderful piece of literature-- especially in a technical sense.
posted by ronv at 9:15 AM on August 3, 2005

Evan Dara's 'The Lost Scrapbook' is well worth your time. It's challenging, but readable.
posted by boombot at 9:17 AM on August 3, 2005

McEllroy - don't forget him. He's like the ur-D.F.Wallace. His women and men is quite sprawling. It scares me everytime i walk by it on my shelf. For a book that's actually enjoyable by him, try "The Letter Left To Me" - real good
posted by muddylemon at 9:32 AM on August 3, 2005

I'll not try to say whether these are postmodern or not, 'cause I'm shite at that stuff, but I think they fit in with what you're looking for:
Knut Hamsun, Hunger
Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!
Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano

And I second too many previously mentioned titles to explicity name them all, but especially Calvino's If On A Winter's Night A Traveller and Auster's New York Trilogy.
posted by bripod at 12:02 PM on August 3, 2005

I would check out Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. It was my introduction to postmodernism and quite frankly it blew me away. Here is a link to a syllabus used for a college course on postmodern literature. Pynchon, Kelman, and Burroughs are the authors that are concentrated on in the course.
posted by pwally at 1:01 PM on August 3, 2005

David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas still has me reeling.
posted by CrunchyGods at 1:29 PM on August 3, 2005

i'll second anything neal stephenson. cryptonomicon, the baroque cycle, snow crash... good stuff.
posted by kooop at 4:31 PM on August 3, 2005

Tristram Shandy. Borges. Beckett's trilogy.

Ben Marcus's The Age of Wire and String, possibly. James Flint's Habitus, possibly. Martin Amis's London Fields, possibly. David Mitchell's Number9Dream, possibly, esp. in the context of Murakami.

Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds, definitely. Italo Svevo's Zeno's Conscience (aka The Confessions of Zeno), definitely.
posted by holgate at 1:08 AM on August 4, 2005

Not pomo in the least, but if you enjoyed Murakami, give Neal Gaiman a try. Start with American Gods.
posted by quasistoic at 2:38 PM on August 4, 2005

I second Neal Stephenson, DeLillo and Vollman -- I also recommend Lord of the Barnyard by Tristan Egolf. Hilarious and highly readable.
posted by Heminator at 3:41 PM on August 4, 2005

Surprised that it hasn't been mentioned, but Cormac McCarthy is excellent, excellent stuff. I read alot of PoMo dribble and he is one of the few authors I found really very talented. Also, check out Hopscotch.
posted by BigBrownBear at 9:51 AM on June 17, 2006

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