Experimental novels

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Let me explain what I mean by experimental novels. They are sometimes called ergodic novels which, as the link points out, means novels that require a special effort to read them, and sometimes called metafiction. What I am looking at is perhaps a subset of those called the typographical novel, that is novels that play around with the form of the novel – random order, limited to certain letters, cutting up the pages, lipograms, that sort of thing. Some of them come from the work of Oulipo. Is this useful or helpful? Almost certainly not, except that it focuses the reader’s mind on the form and makes him/her realise that the novel’s form cannot be taken for granted. Other art forms have been doing this for a long time. Theatre has experimented with audience participation, little or no script, multiple simultaneous voices, the characters questioning the author and so on. Art, poetry, cinema/TV, all seem to accept these devices willingly. The novel, however, though it has played with them, has never really accepted them or, rather, readers have not accepted them. Anyway, here are a few that might be of some interest, though I have definitely not included every pomo game and experiment. Others might have a larger definition of what should be included.

Order in which book is read

Ana Castillo: The Mixquiahuala Letters (you are given three ways to read the letters in the novel – one for the conformist, one for the cynic, and one for the quixotic)
William Burroughs: The Naked Lunch (Burroughs uses the cut-up technique, whereby chapters are in random order and can be read in any order)
Julio Cortázar: Rayuela (Hopscotch) (you can read the novel either in the conventional way or, alternatively start at chapter 73 and then jump to the chapter indicated at the end of each chapter, which is rarely the next one in conventional alphabetical order)
John Fowles: The French Lieutenant’s Woman (offers alternative endings)
B S Johnson: The Unfortunates (text is divided into separate, loose leaf chapters which, apart from the first and last, can be read in any order)
Daniel Leyva: Una piñata llena de memoria (the hero keeps detailed notebooks of all his memories but, at the same time, there is a story as well as an old woman telling the history of Mexico, all mixed up, giving the reader to opt for one or more of the different levels)
Aka Morchiladze: Santa Esperanza (text consists of thirty-six sections about the imaginary island of Santa Esperanza in the Black Sees, which can be read in any order)
Francis Nenik: XO (details at ed-cetera website, where you can also download a pdf. The hard copy has 853 loose-leaf pages which can be read in any order. In German only)
Milorad Pavic: Dictionary of the Khazars (written in the form of a dictionary, so the order is alphabetical rather than chronological. His Landscape Painted With Tea is written as a crossword puzzle.)
Raymond Queneau: A Story as You Like It
Marc Saporta: Composition no 1 (text is divided into separate pages which can be read in any order)
Toby Litt: Exhibitionism (The reader is instructed to read the sections, labelled A-Z,”in any order except the order in which they are presented”)
Philip Toynbee: Tea With Mrs. Goodman (pages are numbered according to the periods and events described and according to narrator, so you can read all the pages relating to one narrator (there are several) or all the pages relating to a specific period)

Messing around with the text

Christine Brooke-Rose: Thru (typographical experiments à la concrete poetry)
Alan Burns: Dreamerika! (typographical experiments with newspaper style headlines mixed in the text in various fonts)
Mark Danielewski: Only Revolutions (two versions of the book, told by two different people, one starting at the front and the other, upside down, at the back)
Timothy Dexter: A Pickle For The Knowing Ones (The book contained 8,847 words and 33,864 letters, but no punctuation, and capital letters were seemingly random. In the second edition Dexter added an extra page which consisted of 13 lines of punctuation marks. Dexter instructed readers to”peper and solt it as they plese”.)
Raymond Federman: Double or Nothing (looks as though it is typewritten, with text written vertically, in shapes, in sort, like concrete poetry. His Take It Or Leave It also experiments with this style but less so.)
Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Tree of Codes (He uses type settings, spaces, bits cut out and even blank pages to give a visual dimension beyond the prose narrative; makes a flip book out of the final pages)
William Gass: Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife (The text is written in a number of typefaces and sizes, the text shaped and sub-divided as Gass sees fit, at points even falling off the page. There are coffee mug stains and photographs, a page mirrored in another, and a page taken from Passions of a Stableboy)
William Gass: The Tunnel (Though he does not play around as much as in Willie Master’s Lonesome Wife, there are various typographical experiments, a page as a shopping bag and various pictures))
Christopher Higgs: The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney (seemingly random jottings, excerpts, notes, footnotes, comments, colourings and so on)
Note that there are various books, often intended for children/young adults, using this technique, e.g. Miranda Clarke: Night of a Thousand Boyfriends or the Choose Your Own Adventure books or, for the more mature, the Create Your Own Erotic Fantasy books.
Tom Phillips: A Humument (In 1966 artist Tom Phillips set himself a task: to find a second-hand book for threepence and alter every page by painting, collage and cut-up techniques to create an entirely new version. He found his threepenny novel in a junkshop on Peckham Rye, South London. This was an 1892 Victorian obscurity titled A Human Document by W.H Mallock and he titled his altered book A Humument.)
Salvador Plascencia: The People of Paper (The book is notable for its unique layout, featuring columns of text running in different directions across the page, blacked out sections, and a name that has literally been cut out of the novel.)
Graham Rawle: Woman’s World (A full-length collaged novel created from fragments of found text from women’s magazines from the early 1960s)


Walter Abish: Alphabetical Africa (The first chapter uses words beginning only with a, the second words beginning with only a and b and so on; he then reverses the process)
Adam Adams: Unhooking a DD-cup Bra without Fumbling (does not contain the letter e)
Jacques Arago: Voyage Autour du Monde Sans la Lettre A (omits the letter a though, when he checked, he found that one had slipped in)
Christian Bök: Eunoia (consists of chapters written using words limited to a single vowel)
Gottlob Burmann (German poet who wrote 130 poems, all omitting the letter r)
Alonso de Alcaá y Herrera: Varios effetos de amor en cinco novelas ejemplares (five stories, each missing one of the vowels)
Alonso de Castillo Solórzano: La Quinta de Laura (omits the letter y)
Francisco de Navarrete y Ribera: La novela de los tres hermanos (omits the letter a)
Mark Dunn: Ella Minnow Pea (as letters fall off an inscription, they are banned by the government of the novel and no longer used in the novel)
Sebastian Faulks, in his novel, A Fool’s Alphabet, has twenty-six chapters with, as their titles, twenty-six place names in alphabetical order. Though the chapters are arranged alphabetically, they are not arranged chronologically.
Fulgentius (wrote a short history of the Creation, with each book omitting a different letter)
Estevanillo González: Vida i hechos de Estevanillo Gonzalez (omits the letter o)
Lord Holland: Eve’s Legend (uses only words with the letter e in them)
Fernando Jacinto de Zurita y Haro: Méritos disponen premios, (omits the letter a)
Lasus of Hermione: Ode to the Centaurs (wrote poetry omitting the letter sigma)
Lope de Vega (his five novellas omits each of the vowels in turn))
L. Septimius Nestor (Nestor of Larana): The Iliad (allegedly wrote a version of The Iliad with each book missing a different letter)
Georges Perec: La disparition (does not contain the letter e; brilliantly translated into English as A Void)
Georges Perec: Les Revenentes (The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex) (every word has the letter e in it)
Enrique Jardiel Poncela: Un marido sin vocación (does not contain the letter e)
Franz Rittler: Die Zwillinge (The Twins) (omits the letter r)
Joseph-Raoul Ronden: La Pièce sans A (omits the letter a)
Carol Shields: Absence (from her story collection Dressing up for the Carnival – omits the letter i)
Philip Terry: The Book of Bachelors (nine stories, each one omitting a different vowel or c, m, p or q)
Tryphiodorus: The Odyssey (allegedly wrote a version of The Odyssey with each book missing a different letter)
Ernest Vincent Wright: Gadsby (does not contain the letter e)
I would also mention Author Anonymous (i.e. Robert Manson Myers): Ars Amatoria: An Anthology (“a 200-page book titled”Ars Amatoria” (after the poem by Ovid) containing only words that begin with the letter”A”)

See also:
Table of Forms-Lipogram
Lipogram Links

Messing around with other stuff

Walter Abish: 99: The New Meaning (99 segments taken from page 99 of 99 books by different authors)
Gwenaëlle Aubry: Personne (26 aspects of the narrator’s father, linked to real and fictional characters, each one starting with a different letter of the alphabet. Note that personne in French can mean both person and nobody)
Thomas Bernhard: In der Höhe (On the Mountain) (120 pages and just one sentence)
Mike Bryant: Afterword (the book is an afterword to a book that does not, in fact, exist)
Italo Calvino: Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore (If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler) (A series of incomplete stories)
Mark Dunn: Ibid: a Life: A Novel in Footnotes (The text is lost so only the footnotes are published)
B S Johnson: Albert Angelo (a hole is cut in the text so that you can see ahead; at the end, the author and his hero argue as they do in Johnson’s Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry)
Michael Joyce: Afternoon: A Story (the first or, at least, the first well-known hypertext novel)
Wayne Koestenbaum: Hotel Theory (Hotel Theory is two books in one: a meditation on the meaning of hotels, and a dime novel (Hotel Women) featuring Lana Turner and Liberace. Typical of Wayne Koestenbaum’s invigoratingly inventive style, the two books – one fiction, one nonfiction – run concurrently, in twin columns, and the articles”a,””an,” and”the” never appear. The nonfiction ruminations on hotels are divided into eight dossiers, composed of short takes on the presence of hotels in the author’s dreams as well as in literature, film, and history.)
Lawrence Levine: Dr. Awkward and Olson in Oslo (palindromic story)
Augusto Monterroso: El dinosaurio [The Dinosaur] (shortest short story? Here it is: Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí. [When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.])
Stuart Moulthrop: Victory Garden (another well-known hypertext novel)
Georges Perec: What A Man! (written only in monosyllables)
Vanessa Place: Dies: A Sentence (160 pages and just one sentence)
Padgett Powell: The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? (a novel told entirely in questions?)
Racter: The Policeman’s Beard Is Half Constructed (book allegedly written by a computer; almost certainly substantially massaged by a human)
David Stephens: Satire: Veritas (palindromic story)
Michel Thaler: Le Train de Nulle Part [The Train from Nowhere] (a novel (233 pages!) without any verbs)

Other links

Richard Kostelanetz Recommends 13 Neglected Classics of Experimental Fiction
Out is In, Off the Page/Now Online – Cool
Clarifying Ergodic and Cybertext
Hypertext and the limits of interactivity
Eunoia and other oddities
Bookd Likr House of Leaves : An Intro to Ergodic Fiction
who uses fUnNy gRaPhIcaL cOnVenTiOnS??!$%?
Important Works Of Fiction With A Reputation For Being”Difficult” (scroll down)
Sample Chapter from Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature by Espen J. Aarseth
What novels feature the written works of their own characters?
Books with unique structures
One-Paragraph and/or One-Sentence Books
Great Moments in Literature
The Electronic Labyrinth (“a study of the implications of hypertext for creative writers looking to move beyond traditional notions of linearity”)
12 Books That End Mid-Sentence
Contemporary Experimental Narratives (description of a course on this subject offered at the University of California, Santa Barbara)
Poesía visual y otras formas literarias desde el siglo IV aC. hasta el siglo XX (in Spanish)