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 Fat of Fed Beasts

Guy Ware

No Bones

Anna Burns

All Dogs are Blue

Rodrigo De Souza Leao

The Blind Rider

Juan Goytisolo

The Wisdom of Crocodiles

Paul Hoffman

Karloff's Circus

Steve Aylett

What Lot's Wife Saw

Ioanna Bourazopoulou


Suhayl Saadi

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders

The Prison House

John King

The Last Children of Tokyo

Yoko Tawada

A Man in Love

Karl Ove Knausgaard

The Origin of Violence

Fabrice Humbert

Bricks and Mortar

Clemens Meyer

Strange Music

Laura Fish


Ed Trewavas


Elfriede Jelinek


Zoran Drvenkar


Will Self

A Whistling Woman

A S Byatt

Bloodchild and Other Stories

Octavia Butler


Nicholas Royle

Encyclopaedia of Snow

Sarah Miano


T M Wolf

In the Shape of a Boar

Lawrence Norfolk

Find Me

Laura Van Den Berg

Loop of Jade

Sarah Howe

Land of No Rain

Amjad Nasser

City of Saints and Madmen

Jeff VanderMeer

Ahab's Wife

Sena Jeter Naslund

The Way of the Women

Marlene van Niekerk

Translated Accounts

James Kelman


Jaume Cabré

The Pale King

David Foster Wallace

One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses

Lucy Corin

The Procedure

Harry Mulisch


Lisa Moore

Occupy Me

Tricia Sullivan

The Same Sea

Amos Oz

The Vegetarian

Han Kang


Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

The Cave

Jose Saramago

Landor's Tower

Iain Sinclair


Umberto Eco

The Quarry

Damon Galgut

The Clay Machine Gun

Victor Pelevin

Perlmann's Silence

Pascal Mercier

The North Water

Ian McGuire

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

Dubravka Ugresic

Children of the Sun

Max Schaefer