Demanding books which offer a challenge

What makes a challenging book? It might be the way it demands attention or the subject matter which is stretching expectations. It can be a book that tackles a heavy subject whether intellectually or emotionally.  Or it can be the complex language sometimes without punctuation, or a huge cast of characters with lots of names and relationships to remember, often spread over many generations. Authors love to play clever tricks with a jumping narrative – flashbacks, stream of consciousness, unreliable narrators, no chronological progression.

But when a book throws down the gauntlet, some of us leap to respond, feeling brave enough to accept and step up to claim the prize. There are many rewards for taking on such a challenge – the knowledge that you have chosen a demanding path and the anticipation of some incredible sights and sounds along the way, a sense of personal achievement of a goal achieved, the hope of learning something new that might enrich your life. And what is a challenge for one reader, is pure stimulation and satisfaction for another. So check out the selection here, test your stamina and dare to give one - or maybe two if you want to push yourself - a go.  

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Lies, First Person

Gail Hareven


Lisa Moore

The Clay Machine Gun

Victor Pelevin

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

Lydia Davis

Occupy Me

Tricia Sullivan

With My Dog-Eyes

Hilda Hilst

Loop of Jade

Sarah Howe

A Man in Love

Karl Ove Knausgaard

House of Leaves

Mark Z Danielewski

Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals

Patricia Lockwood

All Dogs are Blue

Rodrigo De Souza Leao

Kind One

Laird Hunt

Strange Music

Laura Fish

The Same Sea

Amos Oz

Ahab's Wife

Sena Jeter Naslund

The North Water

Ian McGuire

The Birth of Venus

Sarah Dunant

Bricks and Mortar

Clemens Meyer


Ed Trewavas

Ducks, Newburyport

Lucy Ellmann

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Stuart Turton


Elfriede Jelinek

The Vegetarian

Han Kang

The Children's Hospital

Chris Adrian

Translated Accounts

James Kelman

The Way of the Women

Marlene van Niekerk

The Last Children of Tokyo

Yoko Tawada

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

Eimear McBride

The Cave

Jose Saramago


Will Self

Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel


Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Red Doc

Anne Carson

A Whistling Woman

A S Byatt


Umberto Eco

Encyclopaedia of Snow

Sarah Miano


Bahiyyih Nakhjavani

Tram 83

Fiston Mwanza Mujila

The Procedure

Harry Mulisch

Bloodchild and Other Stories

Octavia Butler

In the Shape of a Boar

Lawrence Norfolk

The Pale King

David Foster Wallace

One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses

Lucy Corin

The Reverse Side of Life

Lee Seung-U


T M Wolf

City of Saints and Madmen

Jeff VanderMeer

The Wisdom of Crocodiles

Paul Hoffman

Find Me

Laura Van Den Berg

White Chrysanthemum

Mary Lynn Bracht

Karloff's Circus

Steve Aylett