Today I thought it would be fun to go over three strange books that are unlike anything else written before them. These books are each written in a completely unique style and don’t seem to have any competition in their strangeness. Let’s jump right into it.
3. Finnegans Wake By James Joyce
This is the most famous book out of the three. Written by James Joyce in Paris over a seventeen year period and finally published in 1939, Finnegans Wake is considered to be the hardest to read fiction novel in the English language. As to why that is, here is a brief description of the writing style:
“The entire book is written in a largely idiosyncratic language, which blends standard English lexical items and neologistic multilingual puns and portmanteau words to unique effect. Many critics believe the technique was Joyce’s attempt to recreate the experience of sleep and dreams. Owing to the work’s expansive linguistic experiments, stream of consciousness writing style, literary allusions, free dream associations, and abandonment of narrative conventions, Finnegans Wake remains largely unread by the general public.”
Not sure what all that means? Don’t worry, check out this excerpt from the first page of Finnegans Wake. Of course, reading it probably won’t make anything much clearer. Also, the first sentence of the book is the second half of the last sentence. Essentially, the book never ends.
riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend
of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to
Howth Castle and Environs.
Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passen-
core rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy
isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor
had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse
to Laurens County’s gorgios while they went doublin their mumper
all the time: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to
tauftauf thuartpeatrick: not yet, though venissoon after, had a
kidscad buttended a bland old isaac: not yet, though all’s fair in
vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. Rot a
peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory
end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.
The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-
nuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later
on life down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the
offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan,
erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends
an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes:
and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park
where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since dev-
linsfirst loved livvy
2. Alphabetical Africa By Walter Abish
Now this book makes the list because of the difficulty required to write it. The story isn’t crazy, but the fact each chapter must start with a single letter of the alphabet is pretty wild. Here’s the official breakdown:
“The writing is restricted by a pseudo-alliterative rule: the first chapter contains only words starting with the letter a, the second chapter only words starting with a or b, etc.; each subsequent chapter adds the next letter in the alphabet to the set of allowed word beginnings. This continues for the first 25 chapters, until at last Abish is (briefly) allowed to write without constraint.
In the second half of the book, through chapter 52, letters are removed in the reverse order that they were added. Thus, z words disappear in chapter 27, y in chapter 28, etc…”
Want a taste of what it’s like to read this book? Here’s how it starts:
Ages ago, Alex, Allen and Alva arrived at Antibes, and Alva allowing all, allowing anyone, against Alex’s admonition, against Allen’s angry assertion: another African amusement . . . anyhow, as all argued, an awesome African army assembled and arduously advanced against an African anthill, assiduously annihilating ant after ant, and afterward, Alex astonishingly accuses Albert as also accepting Africa’s antipodal ant annexation. Albert argumentatively answers at another apartment. Answers: ants are Ameisen. Ants are Ameisen?
Africa again: Antelopes, alligators, ants and attractive Alva, are arousing all angular Africans, also arousing author’s analytically aggressive anticipations, again and again. Anyhow author apprehends Alva anatomically, affirmatively and also accurately.
Ages ago an archeologist, Albert, alias Arthur, ably attended an archaic African armchair affair at Antibes, attracting attention as an archeologist and atheist. Ahhh, atheism . . . anyhow, Albert advocated assisting African ants. Ants? All are astounded. Ants? Absurd.
Africa again: Albert arrives, alive and arguing about African art, about African angst and also, alas, attacking Ashanti architecture, as author again attempts an agonizing alphabetical appraisal . . . asked about affection, Albert answers, Ashanti affection also aesthetically abhorrent, antagonizing all. As alien airforce attacks Angola, Albert asks, are anthills anywhere about, agreeing as Alex asserts, all Angolans are absolute asses.
Are all archeologists arrogant Aristotelians, asks author, as Angolans abduct Alva. Adieu Alva. Arrivederci.
After air attack author assumes Alva’s asexuality affected African army’s ack-ack accuracy, an arguable assumption, anyhow, army advances, annihilating antelopes, alligators and ants. Admirable attrition admits Ashanti admiral as author all alone autographs Ashanti atlas, authenticating anthill actions. Actually, asks Alva, are all Ashanti alike.
Apprehending Africa: always, as an afternoon abates an ant advances, also antelopes, alligators, archeologists, African ankles, African amulets and amorous Angolan abductors. Abductors all agreed about abhorrent acts, about air attacks, about Alva and Alex and Allen all apart.
Africa again: Angolans applaud author, after author allegedly approached an American amateur aviator, and angrily argued against America’s anachronistic assault. Afterward all applaud as author awarded avocado and appointed acting alphabet authority.
Alex and Allen alone, arrive in Abidjan and await African amusements.
1. Gadsby By Ernest Vincent Wright
No, this doesn’t have anything to do with the Great Gatsby. It’s about a middle-aged man name Gadsby who wants to build an organization of youth to build civic spirit and improve living conditions in his home town. That’s not what puts this book on this list. This is why:
“Gadsby is a 1939 novel by Ernest Vincent Wright written as a lipogram, which does not include words that contain the letter “e”. The plot revolves around the dying fictional city of Branton Hills, which is revitalized as a result of the efforts of protagonist John Gadsby and a youth group he organizes.
Though vanity-published and little-noticed in its time, the book is a favourite of fans of constrained writing and is a sought-after rarity among some book collectors. Later editions of the book have sometimes carried the alternative subtitle 50,000 Word Novel Without the Letter “E”. In 1968, the novel entered the public domain in the United States due to failure to renew copyright in the 28th year after publication.”
We’ll leave you with this excerpt. As you can imagine, it’s very hard to write a story without using the letter e.
If youth, throughout all history, had had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think; and, possibly, do it practically; you wouldn’t constantly run across folks today who claim that “a child don’t know anything.” A child’s brain starts functioning at birth; and has, amongst its many infant convolutions, thousands of dormant atoms, into which God has put a mystic possibility for noticing an adult’s act, and figuring out its purport.
Up to about its primary school days a child thinks, naturally, only of play. But many a form of play contains disciplinary factors. “You can’t do this,” or “that puts you out,” shows a child that it must think, practically or fail. Now, if, throughout childhood, a brain has no opposition, it is plain that it will attain a position of “status quo,” as with our ordinary animals. Man knows not why a cow, dog or lion was not born with a brain on a par with ours; why such animals cannot add, subtract, or obtain from books and schooling, that paramount position which Man holds today.
But a human brain is not in that class. Constantly throbbing and pulsating, it rapidly forms opinions; attaining an ability of its own; a fact which is startlingly shown by an occasional child “prodigy” in music or school work. And as, with our dumb animals, a child’s inability convincingly to impart its thoughts to us, should not class it as ignorant. Upon this basis I am going to show you how a bunch of bright young folks did find a champion; a man with boys and girls of his own; a man of so dominating and happy individuality that Youth is drawn to him as is a fly to a sugar bowl. It is a story about a small town. It is not a gossipy yarn; nor is it a dry, monotonous account, full of such customary “fill-ins” as “romantic moonlight casting murky shadows down a long, winding country road.” Nor will it say anything about tinklings lulling distant folds;
robins carolling at twilight, nor any “warm glow of lamplight” from a cabin window. No. It is an account of up-and-doing activity; a vivid portrayal of Youth as it is today; and a practical discarding of that worn-out notion that “a child don’t know anything.” Now, any author, from history’s dawn, always had that most important aid to writing: an ability to call upon any word in his dictionary in building up his story. That is, our strict laws as to word construction did not block his path. But in my story that mighty obstruction will constantly stand in my path; for many an important, common word I cannot adopt, owing to its orthography