The Fragmented Novel:  A Reading List
(with links to essays on each book)

by Ted Gioia
1  Winesburg, Ohio
Sherwood Anderson

Anderson's 1919 book blurred the boundaries
between the short story collection and the novel.   

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2  The Golden Ass
Apuleius

Apuleius set the blueprint for the discursive,
disjointed novel back in the 2th century AD.

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3  The Atrocity Exhbition
J.G. Ballard

Ballard tells readers they don't need to read these
fragments sequentially, and can even skip passages.

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4  2666
Roberto Bolaño

Originally envisioned as 5 separate books, 2666
was published a single novel by Bolaño's estate.

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5  When the Killing's Done
T.C. Boyle

Boyle is a master of intersecting stories where history,
biography and sheer imagination mix effortlessly.

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6  The Martian Chronicles
Ray Bradbury

Imagine traveling to Mars, but instead of aliens you
discover the equivalent of Anderson's
Winesburg, Ohio.

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7  The Illustrated Man
Ray Bradbury

Bradbury draws on 'cinematic tattoos' to develop
many of his pet themes of the era.

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8  People of the Book
Geraldine Brooks

Brooks covers 700 years of history in this
page turner about, yes, turning pages.

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9  Stand on Zanzibar
John Brunner

John Brunner draws on the techniques of John Dos
Passos in crafting this prescient New Wave sci-fi novel.

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10  The Master and the Margarita
Mikhail  Bulgakov

Ancient Rome and the 20th century Soviet Union
intersect in this multilayered novel by Mikhail Bulgakov.

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11  The Soft Machine
William Burroughs

Long before Microsoft Word taught us about cut-and-
paste, William Burroughs applied it to his fiction.

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12  Possession
A.S. Byatt

Byatt integrates diary entries, letters and poetry in
this Victorian and modern fiction mash-up

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13  If On a Winter's Night a Traveler
Italo Calvino

Calvino offers his readers a glimpse of ten separate
unfinished novels in this classic of
lectio interruptus.

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14  Answered Prayers
Truman Capote

Capote promised a grand Proustian gossip novel, but
only a few disconnected chapters were ever written.

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15  The House on Mango Street
Sandra Cisneros

Cisneros proved that the fragmented novel could also
serve as entry-level fiction for student readers.

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16  Hopscotch
Julio Cortázar

Why would you start reading a novel at chapter 73? Only
Julio Cortázar knows for sure.

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17 House of Leaves
Mark Z. Danielewski

You can read it as a verbal equivalent of a cabinet of horrors,
or as some sort of a Borgesian nightmare brought to life.

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18 The Fifty Year Sword
Mark Z. Danielewski

Danielewski's novels are a cross between a typographer's
nightmare and regurgitated alphabet soup.

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19  Only Revolutions
Mark Z. Danielewski

The reader is advised to turn the book upside down
every 8 pages and read it in the opposite direction.

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20  Underworld
Don DeLillo

DeLilllo jumps freely, without warning, from vignette to
vignette, character to character, decade to decade.

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21 VALIS
Philip K. Dick

Dick drew on a 8,000 page journal, which he called Exegisis,
in creating the strangest sci-fi novel of its day.

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22   Manhattan Transfer
John Dos Passos

Dos Passos jotted down dialogue, facts, slogans, a textual
collage waiting to be assembled into something larger.

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23  USA Trilogy
John Dos Passos

Dos Passos draws on everything from headlines to song
lyrics in constructing a novel that resembles a scrapbook.

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24  A Visit from the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan

One story begets another, and on and on.  But what goes
around eventually comes around in Egan's rich novel.

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25  The Serialist
David Gordon

Gordon mixes in trashy sci-fi, hard-boiled detective fiction
and a vampire story into this mash-up of genre styles.

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26  The Red House
Mark Haddon

Haddon's novel imitates cinematic techniques with its
frequent scene shifts and changing angles of perspective.

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27  Demon Box
Ken Kesey

It's the middle of the Reagan administration, and Ken Kesey
starts talking about writing a novel-in-a-box

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28  Gods Without Men
Hari Kunzru

Kunzru's century-hopping novel is, in many ways,
emblematic of the new style of fragmented fiction.

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29  The Wanderer
Fritz Leiber

In this Hugo-winning novel, Leiber juggles 15 separate
plots, changing scene and characters every few paragraphs.

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30  The Golden Notebook
Doris Lessing

"I keep four notebooks," writer Anna Wulf tells herself, each for
a different facet of her life.

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31 Wittgenstein's Mistress
David Markson

Markson constructs a novel out of isolated statements
in a manner reminiscent of Wittgenstein's Tractatus.

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32 Atonement
Ian McEwan

Can you squeeze a romance, war story, medical drama
and alt-reality fiction into a single novel?

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33 Cloud Atlas
David Mitchell

Mitchell offer six sharply contrasting stories that only
offer their full meaning in the context of his bold novel.

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34  Pale Fire
Vladimir Nabokov

Pale Fire is ostensibly the text of a poem with introduction,
commentary and supplementary index.

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35  The Time Traveler's Wife
Audrey Niffenegger

The readers are also time travelers, jumping back and forth
in the convoluted chronology of Niffenegger's tale.

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36  At Swim Two-Birds
Flann O'Brien

There are no chapter headings here, just different
stories battling for supremacy and control of the book.  

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37  The Things They Carried
Tim O'Brien

Instead of following the War and Peace blueprint, O'Brien
delivers a military novel that operates on a micro scale.

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38  Coming Through Slaughter
Michael Ondaatje

Ondaatje's book, made up of juxtaposed pieces of text,
often veers closer to poetry than prose.  

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39  The English Patient
Michael Ondaatje

Ondaatje flaunts the accepted rituals of narrative flow,
constructing a story that slowly circles in on itself

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40  Dictionary of the Khazars
Milorad  Pavić

Can a novel be written in the form of a dictionary? Or,
in this instance, three conflicting dictionaries?

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41  Life: A User's Manual
Georges Perec

Perec tells the story of an apartment block in 99 chapters,
each one focused on a different location in the building.

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42  Exercises in Style
Raymond Queneau

Queneau tells the same story over and over again.  The facts
stay the same, only the style changes.

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43  Gargantua and Pantagruel
François Rabelais

Rabelais's novel is long and long-winded, crossing
conventional boundaries of style, genre and subject.

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44  The Imperfectionists
Tom Rachman

Rachman tells the story of a newspaper via ten
chapters, each capable to standing alone a short story.

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45  Mumbo Jumbo
Ishmael Reed

Fact and footnotes merge with fiction and fantasy in
this discursive novel by Ishmael Reed

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46  NW
Zadie Smith

During a 150-page section called “Host,” Smith splinters
her story into 185 fragments, each with its own title heading.

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47 Mulligan Stew
Gilbert Sorrentino

Sorrentino offers a crazy quilt of meta-narratives, as well
as a few meta-narratives within meta-narratives.

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48  Tristram Shandy
Laurence Sterne

Other authors deal in deferred gratification, but
deferment is the gratification in these pages.

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49  Olive Kitteridge
Elizabeth Strout

Strout exposes the hypocrisies of small town life in a novel
constructed out of loosely connected stories.

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50 The White Hotel
D.M. Thomas

Thomas mixes a Freudian case study with a hallucinatory
historical novel.

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51 The Mixed Men
A.E. van Vogt

A.E. van Vogt invented the term "fix-up" to describe a novel
made out of previously published shorter works of fiction.

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52 The Voyage of the Space Beagle
A.E. van Vogt

A host of sci-fi successes, from Star Trek to
Alien, borrowed from this famous van Vogt 'fix-up'.

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53 Cat's Cradle
Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut presents his story over the course of 127
chapters, many of them consisting of only a few paragraphs.

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54 Slaughterhouse-Five
Kurt Vonnegut

Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time, and re-experiences
his life (and World War II) in discontinuous interludes.

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55 The Pale King
David Foster Wallace

Even if DFW had finished The Pale King it would
have retained his fragmented, elusive quality.

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56  Vile Bodies
Evelyn Waugh

Evelyn Waugh creates the prototype for the
gossip novel in this sprightly 1930 comic novel.

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57 Trainspotting
Irvine Welsh

Imagine the youths in The Lord of Flies moving
to a big city and getting hooked on heroin.

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This reading list,of 57 books is a companion to Ted Gioia's essay
"The Rise of the Fragmented Novel." It includes recent high-profile
literary novels build on techniques of disjunction, collage and
juxtaposition, as well as important  books from the past that
experimented with similar techniques. Each title in the list links to
an essay on the book.
Check out our sister sites:

Conceptual Fiction
Exploring the non-realist
tradition in fiction

The New Canon
Great literary works
published since 1985

Great Books Guide
Reviews of current books

Postmodern Mystery
Experimental  works of mystery &
suspense

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