Looking for some book suggestions
April 27, 2018 11:03 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend is frustrated with all of her books right now and is looking for something that is “fiction, post-modern, made in the last 30-40 years; something long and exhaustive, or somewhat complicated”, although she’s not exactly attached to the 30-40 year thing.

She specifically mentioned that she wanted something like 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, which she has read twice. She’s a big reader of Thomas Pynchon, Don Delillo, and Kathy Acker. I think she’s in a big fiction mood right now because she typically reads philosophy books and has just finished reading A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze & Guatarri. We may end up picking up Infinite Jest later today, although she’s not a big fan of DFW. Any help would be appreciated!
posted by gucci mane to Media & Arts (61 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Haruki Murakami? 1Q84 is very long, though got mixed reviews, so she might want to start with a shorter work, or his short stories (which is all I've read).
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:12 AM on April 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

The Castle Cross the Magent Carter by Kia Corthron.
posted by jomato at 11:12 AM on April 27, 2018

Wittgenstein's Mistress, or David Markson in general.

Heidi Julavits - I'm especially fond of The Effect of Living Backwards

Borges - most of his work isn't long but is very interesting.
posted by snaw at 11:14 AM on April 27, 2018

Also, Mo Yan's Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out
posted by snaw at 11:18 AM on April 27, 2018

David Mitchell comes to mind - The Bone Clocks is my favorite.
posted by something something at 11:18 AM on April 27, 2018 [13 favorites]

I came in to suggest Murakami as well! I read IQ84 when I wanted to completely escape my own life and immerse myself in complicated fiction for a while. It really scratched that itch.

She might also enjoy The Goldfinch. I loved that book so much and was so invested in it for so long, that I cried when I finished it because I was sad it was over. It won a Pulitzer Prize for literature.
posted by chatongriffes at 11:21 AM on April 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

If she hasn't read some of the stuff from Richard Powers, specifically The Gold Bug Variations or Orfeo she might. They're not as long as they could be but they are dense and exhausting in a sort of good way. Also along the complicated vein. Stephen Millhauser writes stuff that is fairly direct plot-wise but also very complex just in a writing sense and I always enjoy getting immersed in his stuff. He mostly writes short stories but Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer is a novel he's done. Also how does she feels about scifi-ish stuff? Because Neal Stephenson is the go-to here with Cryptonomicon and others (I've been a little shruggo on some of the other stuff but likes Seveneves) and he fits the bill on complicated, especially stuff like Anathem.
posted by jessamyn at 11:27 AM on April 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

She might like Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko. From Amazon: "In its extraordinary range of character and culture, Almanac of the Dead is fiction on the grand scale. The acclaimed author of Ceremony has undertaken a weaving of ideas and lives, fate and history, passion and conquest in an attempt to re-create the moral history of the Americas, told from the point of view of the conquered, not the conquerors."
posted by stellaluna at 11:30 AM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also suggesting Murakami, but I found The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle to be a far better book than 1Q84, and almost as long.

Also, something like Proulx's Accordion Crimes or Barkskins are both wonderfully long, exhaustive, and complicated.
posted by gyusan at 11:30 AM on April 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Recognitions
posted by stinkfoot at 11:30 AM on April 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

On the " 2666-like quality of horrible brutality and pervading mood of injustice while also being kind of dense and hardcore" front, what about GB84 by David Peace?

While I would not normally suggest science fiction for this kind of request, it might be worthwhile looking at Dhalgren. It is long, dense, experimental and its sciencfictionality is not of the rockets/spaceships kind. She might also like Delany's Through The Valley Of The Nest Of Spiders, and if she finishes it she will join a small and select society which does not yet include me.

City of Night might also be of interest.
posted by Frowner at 11:32 AM on April 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman (written in 1960 but not published widely until 1980, nor in Russia until 1988)

Europe Central by William T. Vollmann

Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Suttree by Cormac McCarthy
posted by sutureselves at 11:35 AM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Flamethrower.
posted by Buddy_Boy at 11:37 AM on April 27, 2018

I haven't read The Recognitions but William Gaddis's other big book, JR, also qualifies.
posted by enn at 11:40 AM on April 27, 2018

Seconding Dhalgren! It is for sure big and complicated, and I think appealing to people who like Pynchon.
posted by snaw at 11:42 AM on April 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Orhan Pamuk - Snow or My Name is Red.
The Instructions - Adam Levin

And yeah, Murakami. I like Hardboiled Wonderland and 1Q84, but Wind-up Bird Chronicle is definitely his best.

I like Jessamyn's recommendation for Stephenson - I'll suggest the Baroque Cycle. I couldn't get through it, not because the writing and pacing weren't excellent, but trying to keep up with all the story intricacies while working fulltime and going to graduate school just wasn't feasible. And it was a tome, requiring some real commitment. Looking forward to picking it up again soon.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 11:59 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, which is basically "What if The Da Vinci Code but long and complex and post-modern and heavy on irony". My favorite of his is actually The Name of the Rose, which is a similar "What if Sherlock Holmes but long and dense and set in a 14th century monastery" (a bit lighter on the post-modernism though).
posted by bassooner at 12:02 PM on April 27, 2018 [16 favorites]

Nick Harkaway's latest, Gnomon? I've been pitching it to everyone all over since I read it. It's big, fat, twisty, complex, multivocal, and very good!
posted by redfoxtail at 12:04 PM on April 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

This isn't as twisty, but what about The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt?
posted by tapir-whorf at 12:13 PM on April 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon was a good, dense, twisty read, with bonus folklore vs superhero culture twists. Content warning for unexpected animal death. Telegraph Avenue is another Chabon, set in Berkeley, and is sort of a post-modern, magical-realist crime novel.

Maybe also The Dinner, by Herman Koch? Very dark, totally bananas unreliable narrator, complicated story, originally written in Dutch so has some good existential dread baked in, too.
posted by assenav at 12:14 PM on April 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

China Mieville comes to mind. All of his stuff is complex and dinks around not just with tropes but semantics. Like the New Crobuzon stuff is going to be a slog unless you put in some real effort.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:27 PM on April 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

I loved The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. it's set in a 19th century gold-mining town in New Zealand--it's got multiple perspectives; a complex murder mystery; and a trial.
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 12:31 PM on April 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Maybe Calvino's Invisible Cities? Not exactly post-modern, but it's a really remarkable combination of fantasy, magical realism, and history.
posted by jesourie at 12:39 PM on April 27, 2018

house of leaves
posted by crawfo at 12:41 PM on April 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

Has she read W.G. Sebald or Laszlo Krasznahorkai? Neither are quite as long as 2666 but they might scratch the itch.

I haven't read William Vollmann yet, but I've been eyeing some of his work specifically because I've been wanting to read something like 2666, as well.

And I'm reading (almost done with) Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate, for similar reasons. Its slightly outside of the time window. But it's long and heavy.
posted by AtoBtoA at 12:42 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt. She has a new collection coming out too (hooray!) called Some Trick.
posted by rdnnyc at 12:46 PM on April 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

I would recommend Stone's Fall by Iain Pears. It's a historical thriller with lots of twists and turns, multiple narrators, and a backwards timeline.
posted by holborne at 1:06 PM on April 27, 2018

This isn't quite twisty and postmodern so much as dense and complex and multivocal, but The Bully of Order by Brian Hart is an excellent, lyrical ensemble novel set in a logging town in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s.
posted by tapir-whorf at 1:27 PM on April 27, 2018

She is looking for Jennifer Egan's The Keep.

The first paragraph of the NYT review lays it out perfectly:
"Jennifer Egan is a refreshingly unclassifiable novelist; she deploys most of the arsenal developed by the metafiction writers of the 1960’s and refined by more recent authors like William T. Vollmann and David Foster Wallace — but she can’t exactly be counted as one of them. The opening of her new novel, “The Keep,” lays out a whole Escherian architecture, replete with metafictional trapdoors, pitfalls, infinitely receding reflections and trompe l’oeil effects, but what’s more immediately striking about this book is its unusually vivid and convincing realism. Egan sustains an awareness that the text is being manipulated by its author, while at the same time delivering character and story with perfect and passionate conviction. Very few writers, of our time or any other, have been able to bring that combination off."

If that satisfies, I would also recommend Egan's Look At Me.
posted by minervous at 1:32 PM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

If she liked 2666 she should read The Savage Detectives asap!
I'd also recommend Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar, though older than her range (50-60 years), or Artificial Respiration by Ricardo Piglia.

Also, A. S. Byatt's Possession really scratched that intellectual itch for me, although it's also quite romantic and lovely.
posted by ipsative at 1:32 PM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle checks in at almost 2700 pages, in several volumes (technically 8, but usually published as 3), with a 918 page related book, Cryptonomicon (time-wise a sequel, but written first). I thought it was wonderful. It sounds like science-fiction, but it's not.
posted by ubiquity at 1:32 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think Krasznahorkai is about as close as you will find to 2666. Try Satantango or War and War.

Other books that come to mind are Gass's Omensetter's Luck, Perec's Life a User's Manual, Matthiessen's Far Tortuga, and earlier Bernhard such as The Lime Works or Correction.
posted by kickingtheground at 1:38 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Your face tomorrow trilogy by Javier Marías. A gripping read about different types of betrayals, from the point of view of a Spanish man living in London while estranged from his wife.
posted by kelper at 1:38 PM on April 27, 2018

Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo (review) is on my to do read list and might fit the bill. "Praised by the likes of Tupac and Thomas Pynchon, Ishmael Reed’s experimental novel about race in the US is, more than ever, a book for today."
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:00 PM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oooh, also Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate (review)
This is the best book I have read all year, if not for longer.

It isn’t in our usual genres, it’s a mimetic novel about some people in San Francisco in 1980, working in defense software, falling in love, falling out of love, sculpting, driving, dating, having conversations about TinTin, having kids, dying, coping with death, getting married, having parties, having social anxiety, protesting about nuclear proliferation—you know, the kinds of things people do. But in The Golden Gate, they do it all in awesome tetrameter sonnets.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:02 PM on April 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Is she into dystopian futures? Try The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.
posted by homesickness at 2:11 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Nexus Trilogy by Ramez Naam
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:15 PM on April 27, 2018

The Raw Shark Texts
posted by bq at 2:34 PM on April 27, 2018

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders

Older: Perhaps Master & Margarita (Bulgakov) or pretty much any Faulkner (I like Light in August a lot).

But yeah, Infinite Jest is pretty spot on. I think it's an excellent read, something that if you get into it, you just live inside for a while. It's very helpful to read it alongside someone else. Also nth the recommendations for Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
posted by vunder at 2:42 PM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Depending on how not-attached she is to that 30-40 year window, some of the "baggy monster" pre-modernism novelists might as well, in practice, be postmodern.

I'm specifically thinking of Bleak House and Vanity Fair, which have about as much interest in or awareness of literary modernism as they do cell phones. Long, complex, grueling and funny, self-aware, etc.
posted by Polycarp at 3:11 PM on April 27, 2018

Seconding Cloud Atlas and Umberto Eco, although I'd suggest The Island Of The Day Before or maybe Baudolino rather than Foucault's Pendulum.
posted by irisclara at 3:12 PM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

She might like Too Like The Lightning, set in a post-nation-state, post-organized-religion future with an unreliable narrator who is at once possibly the worst person alive and the only one who can avoid a collapse into world war. She might even get all the philosophy references in the narrator's asides.

Warning: it's the first of four books and they're not all out yet.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:17 PM on April 27, 2018

Nicola Barker might be worth a look. So far I've read Clear, Darkmans and The Burley Cross Postbox Theft, and they were all very different and all doing unusual things. Darkmans was by far the longest and oddest.

Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black is an impressively strange and seedy ghost story - and calling it a ghost story makes it sound like a genre novel, which it really, really isn't.
posted by kelper at 3:25 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Version Control by Dexter Palmer (a former Mefite!).
posted by amro at 3:28 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

"My Struggle" by Karl Ove Knausgaard. It's 6 books (though only 5 are out in English), and it's long and involved and wonderful.

I'd add "State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett, which I just read and is great.

(For reference, I love long complicated books like Don Delillo's, but I hated an Infinite Jest.)
posted by Valancy Rachel at 3:34 PM on April 27, 2018

As someone who's read almost all of the recommendations so far, I'd second David Mitchell, who is a wonderful storyteller, and Umberto Eco, whose deep familiarity with semiotics makes all of his fiction wonderfully layered.

For Murakami i'd suggest Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Oreo by Fran Ross

As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem

The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

and of course, Pale Fire

Godel Escher Bach is not exactly fiction, but if she hasn't read it, she might find it just her thing.
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:48 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Last Samurai, My Name is Red, and The Golden Gate (not sure if the latter really fits the bill here but it's so great I want everyone to read it anyway) and adding Norman Rush's Mating and Alasdair Gray's Lanark to the list.
posted by karayel at 4:17 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. It is beautifully written and one of my favourite postmodern books of the last few years.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:44 PM on April 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

2nding House of Leaves ^_^
posted by houseofleaves at 5:34 PM on April 27, 2018

I recently finished A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, which I highly highly recommend. It's not as aggressively postmodern as some of the above suggestions, but it's definitely not a straightforward narrative, and it's quite engrossing and immersive.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:10 PM on April 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Lincoln in the Bardo is post-modern, it's fairly challenging for those who like a conventional narrative. Fans of experiential poetry love it.

In related, I've just read Ulysses Grant's memoirs, and I found it quite interesting. The style is austere, but the implications are fascinating.
posted by ovvl at 6:53 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Elena Ferrante and Karl Ove Knausgaard.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:22 PM on April 27, 2018

Sergio De La Pava's A Naked Singularity, which I love, sounds like just what she's looking for. Bonus: the author has a new book coming out in May if she likes this one.
posted by ferret branca at 7:27 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Volcano Lover by Susan Sontag
posted by DarthDuckie at 7:30 PM on April 27, 2018

The Blue Ant Trilogy by William Gibson (Pattern Recognition; Spook Country; Zero History) is a series of books I've read over and over. Much less (or perhaps just more subtly) apocalyptic than some of his other writing. Strong female leads.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:57 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon is fantastic in a layers of narrative/conflicting levels of reality kind of way, if she doesn’t mind near-future SF.
posted by LizardBreath at 4:54 AM on April 28, 2018

Has someone mentioned Karen Tei Yamashita's The I-Hotel yet?
posted by tapir-whorf at 3:28 PM on April 28, 2018

I like to take every opportunity to recommend The Last Samurai by Helen deWitt--amazing, and entirely unrelated to the Tom Cruise movie.
posted by exceptinsects at 10:48 AM on April 30, 2018

Thank you to everyone who has replied! I will certainly be showing her this list ASAP!
posted by gucci mane at 5:14 PM on May 2, 2018

I'm currently 18% of the way through Alan Moore's Jerusalem with, apparently, 62 hours still to go, and I'm feeling that it's not premature to recommend it, since reading it is the closest I've yet got to the glorious 3 weeks of reading 2666. I was dubious during the first chapter with its flashy verbal pyrotechnics, but it's now clear that was just the voice of the character narrating that particular chaper. I've no idea where he's going with this, but it's such a rewarding place to spend time.
posted by kelper at 1:47 AM on May 7, 2018

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