10 of Literature's Most Notoriously Incomprehensible Classics

A while back, we surveyed a selection of cinema’s most notoriously “difficult” classics. This week, we got to thinking about literary equivalents, mainly because of the news that to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, 169 artists are creating their own versions of the mysterious illustration that adorns p. 169 of the book’s third volume. We’ve come up with a selection of other novels that have been acclaimed as classics and that we find largely incomprehensible — none of them have been bewildering readers for quite as long as Tristram Shandy has, but they’re doing their best to make up for lost time. We’re big fans of some of these novels, by the way (although not all of them) — but love them or hate them, they’re all confusing as hell.

Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs

One of the most famously incomprehensible works of the 20th century, Naked Lunch was Burroughs’ attempt to relate his drug-fueled experiences in Tangier and the various other places he holed up during the 1950s to indulge his appetite for strong narcotics and young gentlemen. The result is a disconnected, surreal narrative that involves drugs, a talking asshole, lots of paranoia, more drugs, and carnivorous homosexual creatures called Mugwumps. And drugs. Lots of drugs.