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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The Way of the Women

Marlene van Niekerk

White Chrysanthemum

Mary Lynn Bracht

Encyclopaedia of Snow

Sarah Miano

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

Eimear McBride


T M Wolf

The Unquiet Dead

Ausma Zehanat Khan

Red Doc

Anne Carson

Occupy Me

Tricia Sullivan

The Blind Rider

Juan Goytisolo

City of Saints and Madmen

Jeff VanderMeer

Children of the Sun

Max Schaefer


Suhayl Saadi


Bahiyyih Nakhjavani

The Wisdom of Crocodiles

Paul Hoffman

A Man in Love

Karl Ove Knausgaard

The Same Sea

Amos Oz

The Pale King

David Foster Wallace

The Prison House

John King


Elfriede Jelinek

House of Leaves

Mark Z Danielewski

The Cave

Jose Saramago

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders


Umberto Eco

The North Water

Ian McGuire

Ducks, Newburyport

Lucy Ellmann

Lies, First Person

Gail Hareven

Perlmann's Silence

Pascal Mercier

The Fortress

Mesa Selimovic

Tram 83

Fiston Mwanza Mujila

Land of No Rain

Amjad Nasser


Ed Trewavas

Translated Accounts

James Kelman


Nicholas Royle

The Last Children of Tokyo

Yoko Tawada

With My Dog-Eyes

Hilda Hilst

Karloff's Circus

Steve Aylett

One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses

Lucy Corin

The Procedure

Harry Mulisch

Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals

Patricia Lockwood

Bricks and Mortar

Clemens Meyer

Bloodchild and Other Stories

Octavia Butler

Loop of Jade

Sarah Howe

The Origin of Violence

Fabrice Humbert

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Jesmyn Ward


Jaume Cabré

All Dogs are Blue

Rodrigo De Souza Leao

The Blind Side of the Heart

Julia Franck

The Children's Hospital

Chris Adrian

Ahab's Wife

Sena Jeter Naslund

In the Shape of a Boar

Lawrence Norfolk