The answer is “no”.

Today, I was going through various news reads and wondering what I’d write on my blog, and I came across this question:

Is James Joyce’s Ulysses the hardest novel to finish?

(Link here.)

The answer, in my opinion, is “no”. So far, in my life, the hardest-to-finish book is László Krasznahorkai’s Seiobo There Below. To be fair to him, he might have books that are even more difficult to read, but I have not attempted them.

I think maybe my favourite thing about this book is that they somehow re-released it in 2015, calling it a new book, as if that whole 2013 release didn’t happen. Like they could trick us into trying again. I felt smug every time I saw it in the book shop, and thought, “Fool me once…”

Seiobo There Below does not have a discernible plot, it has immensely long sentences, no chapters, etc. Joyce is a breeze, comparatively.

So, question: What’s the hardest book you’ve attempted to finish. It’s best, in my opinion, if it remains unfinished, but of course feel free to brag about having finished it. 

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4 thoughts on “The answer is “no”.

  1. Because of my condition (two small children), the most difficult novels for me to finish are long ones that might result in me falling asleep in my few minutes of free time per day. Thus, Bolano’s 2666 might be my choice. Awesome novel, powerful and wide-ranging concepts, but also really tough because of the subject matter too. I guess the obligatory other answer is Infinite Jest, which is not actually my answer because I enjoyed it so much and tried not to get hung up on parsing all of the end notes, and fortunately I was already familiar with Wallace’s lexicography and worldview.

  2. I don’t have an answer for your exact question, but at one point I was part of a conversation/debate about the most difficult part of The Sound and the Fury, and while many believe it is the Benjy section (the first one), I argued that is it definitely the Quentin section (the second one), and my Faulkner prof basically said “YES. Thank you.”

    Also, FYI, same prof presented an idea in class that The Sound and the Fury is WF attempting to write his way out from under his influences, so the Benjy section is a parody of Hemingway, the Quentin is a pastiche of Joyce, the Jason section is like an evil version of Mark Twain, and the fourth is WF finally finding his own voice. YMMV. But the Joyce connection probably made me think of this.

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