Do you like to getting deep into a really long novel? Have you got a few heavyweights on your reading list for which you haven't yet mustered the courage? Here are our suggestions for five long and 'difficult' novels that are worth the effort.Most people who enjoy reading have a few heavyweights on their list of books they plan to get to one day. Those long, thousand-page epics are both tempting and daunting. At the very least they require a large investment of time but it's much harder when they're also 'difficult' books. Of course, 'difficulty' is a subjective thing. Books can be 'difficult' because they're complicated or non-linear or eschew traditional ideas of plot. Some books are intended to be difficult, as is the case with some on the list below.
Pushing on through a 'difficult' novel is much harder when it's a long book. It feels as though the end is so far away that it's easy to get bogged down, reading more and more slowly until eventually you grind to a halt. Here are five books that are worth keeping patience with.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy Easily the least difficult book on this list, the most challenging aspects of War and Peace are Tolstoy's historical essays, which become longer and more frequent as the book goes on, and keeping the many characters straight through the first hundred pages or so. Other than that it's a pure joy. Getting through it is simply a matter of stamina.
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon Here's the most difficult book on the list. Pynchon's most famous novel is deliberately cryptic. I read it with a guide and there are many sections that would have made very little sense to me had I not done so. Nevertheless, this is a novel that is funny, intelligent and moving. If you do attempt it without a guide, be prepared to do a lot of re-reading.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace Another book that is intended to be difficult. One of Wallace's themes is the corrosiveness of mindless entertainment and so he wanted the reader to have to work at this novel. The chronology is deliberately scrambled, a crucial year in the plot is recounted only as an aside and even the precise location of the ending is not immediately obvious. Those things serve to make it more rewarding, rather than less. Once you finish you realise just how cleverly constructed it is but the novel is not just a feat of intelligence, it's also compassionate, profoundly sad and often hilarious.
2666 by Roberto Bolano This could be seen as five linked novellas, rather than one novel. In fact it lacks some of the clarity of purpose of a great novel. Its difficulty arises from the fact that its over-arching narrative is unclear for long periods. At times it feels like a series of disjointed stories and for long periods it seems not to move forward. However, it rewards persistence and careful attention with some dazzling writing and an extraordinary number of ideas.
Ulysses by James Joyce And so to the one on the list that I haven't read. It has a reputation as the supreme difficult novel and in his review James confirmed that the reputation is deserved. Despite that, James described it as "in many ways the best book I've read", which should provide some encouragement to get to grips with it.