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Home Books The most difficult literary works in history, hard-to-read books

The most difficult literary works in history, hard-to-read books

The most difficult literary works in history, hard-to-read books


Writers and readers around the world agree on one thing – some books are harder to read than others. On the web's largest book site, Goodreads, millions of readers share information about books with each other. Based on their reviews, we selected the most difficult literary works in history and compiled list of the most difficult books in the world.

10. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

"Heart of Darkness" by Joseph ConradGenre: novella, adventure.

  •  The list of the most difficult books to understand opens with a story about the protagonist's journey into the wilds of the Black Continent and his own heart. The main difficulty is the allegorical way of narration, its diversity and abundance of meanings. As well as verbose and lengthy explanations of the author, what exactly he means.

9. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

"Infinite Jest" by David Foster WallaceGenre: humor, satire, science fiction.

  •  The volume of the book (it has more than a thousand pages) is just “flowers” compared to everything else. Readers are waiting for alternate timelines, intertwining and diverging, more than two hundred characters and a non-linear narrative structure. And a huge number of footnotes (there are more than 388 in total). Many of them have their own footnotes, ad infinitum.

  •  If you decide to test your nerves with Infinite Jest, we recommend that you first find on the Internet an approximate chronology of the story, a list of characters and a description of the world in which the book takes place. It is not surprising that The Endless Joke was translated into Russian only in 2018, almost a quarter of a century after the creation of the book.

8. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"Crime and Punishment", Fyodor DostoevskyGenre: philosophical novel, crime, psychological realism.

  •  The first (but not the last) book by a Russian-speaking author on the list of the most difficult books. The most difficult thing for readers to overcome is the first hundred and a few pages, when Raskolnikov wanders around the disgustingly yellow Petersburg in delirium.

  •  And according to English-speaking readers, the most difficult thing in a book is names. To a foreign ear, ordinary Russian names are too long and hard to remember. Some admitted that they had to write out the characters on a separate sheet and constantly check with it in an attempt to understand who is who.

7. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia MarquezGenre: magical realism, family saga epic fantasy.

  •  A rare book covers such a wide layer of time as in the famous novel by Marquez. It describes the life of seven generations. And so that the reader does not doze off, the names of the characters are regularly repeated: for example, more than half of the male population of the book is called Aureliano. Try to understand here who is who, especially if the background of the book is magical realism, where the everyday and mundane are intricately intertwined with the magical and magical.

6. "War and Peace", Leo Tolstoy

"War and Peace", Leo TolstoyGenre: romance novel, military prose, history.

  •  This book made the list of the most difficult literary works to read for one reason only – the number of pages.

  •  If you do not take into account the size of "War and Peace", as well as the author's regular attempts to hit philosophy (which many readers quickly skim through), then the novel itself is very interesting. There is everything here – noble lovers, suicide attempts, and sex scenes mixed with pictures of suffering and death, and large-scale battles and the customs of various strata of society. Many readers, having reached the last page with all their might, exclaim in ecstasy: “This is the best book we have ever read!”

5. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas PynchonGenre: satire, science fiction, history.

  •  Quantum mechanics, mass extinction of animals and speculative metaphysics are not topics for average minds. It is not easier with the structure of the narrative either: one gets the impression that Pynchon tried to write as densely and richly as possible. As if his goal was to cram into 700 pages what another author could not tell even in 2000.

  •  The intensity of the narrative is slightly diluted with musical interludes, when the characters sing, and they do it often and with pleasure. Otherwise, the text is full of hints, allusions and hidden quotes, so when reading, you will have to constantly turn to the help of Google and other search engines. The novel was translated into Russian only in 2012, 39 years after its creation.

4. Moby Dick, Gourmet Mellville

"Moby Dick", Gourmand MellvilleGenre: epic adventure.

  •  Many readers have two problems with the famous novel Moby Dick.

  • First, the book is a whimsical mix of classic novel, essay, free-flying thought, quasi-scientific passages (such as the boring chapter on marine animals), theatrical monologues and dialogue, and even production drama about the hardships of slaughtering whales in the Arctic Ocean. Once the brain is tuned to one type of storytelling, and now the action in "Moby Dick" takes a sharp turn.
  • The second difficulty is the outdated concept of the allegory novel, which went out of fashion in the XNUMXth century. At the same time, the symbolic language in Melville's book is difficult to decipher. Perhaps this is the secret of her charm.

3. Sound and Fury, William Faulkner

Sound and Fury, William FaulknerGenre: gothic, modernism, domestic fiction.

  •  In one of the most difficult literary works to read, the first part is the most difficult. There, the story is told from the perspective of a person with special needs. He has difficulty imagining the flow of time and sometimes jumps from the past to the present and back literally in one sentence.

  •  Many readers have compared the first part of this novel to a journey through a dense fog: it is not clear what is happening around at all, and people, trees and animals are equally indistinguishable dark silhouettes.

  •  But if the reader is stubborn enough, the fog will dissipate by the fourth part and it will become more interesting to read.

2. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

Finnegans Wake is one of the hardest books to read.Genre: experimental "word-creating, mythological and comic" novel.

  •  In "Commemoration" there is practically no plot. The whole book is a continuous stream of consciousness, in which the author tried to capture in words the complex, fluid matter of sleep.

  •  And to make the reader “more fun”, Joyce was engaged in word creation, punning and inserting foreign words into the text. Almost a hundred years have passed since the book was written, and literary scholars continue to argue what it all means. It is said that by the end of the book, Joyce himself had difficulty understanding his own work. This is not surprising, because he worked on the book for 16 years and by the end completely forgot what he was talking about at the beginning.

1 Ulysses, James Joyce

Ulysses is the most complex literary workGenre: modernist novel.

  •  First place in the list of the most difficult literary works in history is another book by the Irish writer James Joyce.

  •  It is considered a masterpiece and an example of modernist stream-of-consciousness prose. Reading Ulysses is slightly easier than the second-ranked Finnegans Wake, despite Joyce's attempts to concentrate all the days of mankind from the beginning of time to the end of the age in one day of an ordinary Dublin resident. The novel has a more or less understandable structure and even has a semblance of a plot.

  •  However, in his work, Joyce played with the reader from the heart, scattering parodies, allusions and many puzzles throughout the text. Literary critics are still struggling with their decision.