Novels like scrapbooks
April 12, 2016 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Looking for short novels composed of fragments, vignettes, etc. Examples: Michael Ondaatje's The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, Elizabeth Hardwick's Sleepless Nights, Danielle Dutton's Margaret the First.

I prefer literary fiction, under 250 pages. Bonus if novels are based on historical figures, but not strictly necessary. Not interested in SF/fantasy or someone's magnum opus (e.g., DFW's The Pale King, Bolaño's 2666).
posted by the return of the thin white sock to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I just read Where'd You Go, Bernadette which is a contemporary set in Seattle. It's a lot of fun, so might not fit into your specified genre. However, it is comprised of correspondences from different people for the reader to piece together the story.
posted by ethidda at 12:47 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ander Monson's Other Electricities?
posted by praemunire at 12:52 PM on April 12, 2016

Emma Donoghue's Astray - billed as a set of short stories, but really more like fragments.

Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family (so good).
posted by kitcat at 1:05 PM on April 12, 2016

Kate Zambreno's O Fallen Angel is kind of like this, in that it's told from three different perspectives, but maybe (slightly) more of a traditional story than you're looking for. But it's excellent.
posted by jabes at 1:08 PM on April 12, 2016

Not sure about the movie, but World War Z is full of different points of view and reports. Also, I feel like the True History of the Kelly Gang might fit into your criteria but IIRC there was only one narrator.
posted by z11s at 1:10 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Definitely Mrs. Bridge, and if you like that, its sequel, Mr. Bridge. Mrs. Bridge consists of (Wikipedia informs me) 117 chronologically arranged vignettes, mostly a page or two, that span about 20 years of her life.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:16 PM on April 12, 2016

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, I know you said no sci-fi, but he rides the cusp
Click, by a bunch of authors, each doing a section, including Roddy Doyle
It is called an epistolary novel, I think I learned that here at MeFi. :)
posted by coevals at 1:23 PM on April 12, 2016

Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler. (And for literary snippets + historical figures, try his Invisible Cities, though that's less like a novel.)

William Gass, Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife. (Cheeky typography; some of the fragments are both graphic & graphical; NSFW.)
posted by miles per flower at 1:26 PM on April 12, 2016

Peter Matthiessen's hallucinatory and utterly amazing Far Tortuga fits your category as well as it does any other, I think.
posted by jamjam at 1:28 PM on April 12, 2016

Would something like Wittgentstein's Mistress fit the bill? I don't actually remember how long it is, but it consists of a series of short aphorisms/anecdotes etc.
posted by juv3nal at 1:30 PM on April 12, 2016

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli is a critical darling and fits the bill perfectly.
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:35 PM on April 12, 2016

z11s: World War Z is full of different points of view and reports

The movie is very vaguely related to the book, which is subtitled "an oral history of the zombie war." Here's a Google books preview.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:36 PM on April 12, 2016

Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance by Richard Powers
posted by readery at 1:42 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Tove Jansson's The Summer Book is a series of vignettes, and it's lovely. If you want more Ondaatje, Coming through Slaughter fits your bonus requirement of being based on a historical figure. Both of Renata Adler's novels (Speedboat and Pitch Dark) are in this style, as well.
posted by torridly at 1:42 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

253, by Geoff Ryman, is about a tube journey. Each chapter deals with a different person on the train in 253 words.
posted by vickyverky at 1:49 PM on April 12, 2016

The Lover's Dictionary, by David Levithan (this was his first non-YA book)

Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino

The Lost Books of the Odyssey, by Zachary Mason

Dictionary of the Khazars, by Milorad Pavic
posted by janey47 at 1:51 PM on April 12, 2016

Seconding Mrs. Bridge, a fantastic book. For historical fiction, Jean Echenoz seems to specialize in this type of book. Ravel is really good. On the more avant-garde side I'd recommend Bolano's Antwerp, Thomas Bernhard's The Voice Imitator, and Gilbert Sorrentino's Splendide-Hotel.Giacomo Joyce is out of print but it's a dazzling little artifact of Joyce's time in Trieste. You might check out New Directions' Pearls and Green Integer for more little books.
posted by otio at 1:53 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

In Max Frisch's novel Man in the Holocene (1979), the protagonist is losing his memory, and tries to cope with this by cutting pages out of books and pasting them on the walls. As he gradually loses his mind, the narrative fades out, and the novel turns into a kind of scrapbook or collage of cutout pages (some of which you can find illustrated here).
posted by verstegan at 2:11 PM on April 12, 2016

Cloud Atlas has already been mentioned, but I strongly recommend his first novel, Ghostwritten. Superb.
posted by jbickers at 2:33 PM on April 12, 2016

Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill. I liked it very much - it is all short snippets, describing marriage, family, art, ambition. I found it incredibly moving.
posted by vunder at 3:04 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jim Crace's Devil's Larder and Continent are both excellent short novels with multiple parts; I think the former suits your parameters a little better, though the latter is one of my favorites.
posted by cowboy_sally at 3:35 PM on April 12, 2016

Two examples from the 20s:

F. Scott Fitzgerald's first and most popular (in his own time) novel, This Side of Paradise, is a college coming-of-age story pieced together from all kinds of work he did as an undergrad; his friends derisively called it "The Collected Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald."

John Dos Passos's Manhattan Transfer is put together in a very scrapbook-y format—newspaper clippings, lots of alterations of POV and style, etc.
posted by Polycarp at 3:41 PM on April 12, 2016

Zachary Mason's The Lost Books of the Odyssey

Adam Thorpe's Ulverton

Joshua Harmon's Quinnehtukqut

Stanley Crawford's Some Instructions to my Wife Concerning the Upkeep of the House and Marriage, and to my Son and Daughter, Concerning the Conduct of their Childhood
posted by thomas j wise at 3:43 PM on April 12, 2016

David Markson's Reader's Block fits your criteria exactly. I found it hard to get through (I had to look up pretty much every fragment, but it sure is literary and only 193 pages). Wittgenstein's Mistress, as mentioned by juv3nal above, is a much more fun read, though I don't remember it being fragments and vignettes so much as a stream of consciousness narrative (but it's been a while since I read it, so I could be wrong).
posted by snaw at 4:05 PM on April 12, 2016

For something a little lighter, Kate Atkinson's Life After Life might be a good pick. The link goes to a very mildly spoiler-y NYT review.
posted by snaw at 4:10 PM on April 12, 2016

I don't know...I loved Life After Life, but I wouldn't call it lighter, exactly. There's quite a harrowing section involving domestic violence and abuse, and there's another that goes into a great amount of graphic detail on the bombing of London in WWII. Lots of death and suffering.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:41 PM on April 12, 2016

Enchanted Night by Steven Millhauser. It's been ages since I read it, but I really enjoyed it at the time.
posted by roger ackroyd at 5:12 PM on April 12, 2016

I immediately thought of The Tattooed Map by Barbara Hodgson - because of the "scrapbook" mention. I also love Hippolyte's Island by the same author.

More favorites of mine are from Nick Bantock - the Griffin & Sabine series, The Museum at Purgatory....

Not really what I'd call literary, per se, but I love this style of book, where there is art and mystery all jumbled together. :)
posted by hilaryjade at 5:16 PM on April 12, 2016

Good question! I loved The Collected Works of Billy the Kid and searched far and wide for books that offered interesting, poetic, fragmented writing on historical figures. Here's the best of what I found:

Bucking the Tiger, Bruce Olds (Comes closer to the tone and subject [Doc Holliday] to The Collected Works of Billy the Kid than any other book I've seen.)

Coming Through Slaughter, Michael Ondaatje (Buddy Bolden gets the same treatment as Billy the Kid. I think this one is even stronger.)

The Big Smoke, Adrian Matejka (This one doesn't skirt the edges of poetry, it's a cycle of poems that's also a biography of Jack Johnson. It's also jaw-droppingly good.)
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:54 PM on April 12, 2016

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger is told completely via personal correspondence, office memos, e-mails, articles, handwritten notes, and legal documents.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:49 PM on April 12, 2016

Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg might be right up your alley. Mazie Gordon was a beloved real-life woman in Depression era NYC who was known, even into her old age, for being a looker in sassy dresses and furs, who roamed the streets at night after closing up the family movie theater, dispensing kind words and change to the homeless men of the Bowery, helping them get on their feet, or find a warm meal or a roof for the night. Attenberg crafts a novel about her, built from fictional bits of all kinds: scraps of her journal; letters from her sister; interviews with her neighbors; research from historians. It's warm as a shot of brandy, salty like movie theater popcorn, and full of hilarious one-liners and a fair bit of heartbreak. It's awesome.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:26 AM on April 13, 2016

That one is 336 pages, but it's a quick read.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:55 AM on April 13, 2016

Thanks, everyone -- so many great recommendations! I've marked the ones that immediately went on my to-read list, but there's plenty here to keep me busy for awhile. Thanks again.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 2:57 PM on April 13, 2016

The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Some critics consider it the first postmodern novel because of its inventive structure (it was published in 1819). The book bounces back and forth between the autobiography written by the cat, who used the back of paper torn from one of his master's books, and a biography of a composer (based on E.T.A. himself and written by a character in the book), with occasional clarifications by the "editor" of the book.
posted by perhapses at 11:49 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is constructed this way, and is an amazing book as well. It clocks in at around 350 pages, though.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, published last year, might be closer to what you're looking for, and it's a quick read. It's a beautiful, well-written book; I recommend it!
posted by duffell at 1:47 PM on May 10, 2016

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