The 5 Best Absurdist Novels That Tell Must-Read Surreal Stories

Need an escape to a bizarre alternate reality? Look no further than these delighfully absurd novels.

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If you ever wanted to enter some strange universe, there's no better way to do that than with an absurdist fiction novel. This genre has the power to expand your worldview in the most surreal ways possible.

An absurdist novel is always satisfying to read, and the best part is, you'll discover something new each time you re-read it.

What Is Absurdist Fiction?

Absurdist fiction rose to popularity in the 1950s and 60s, and some modern authors still dedicate themselves to the craft. Franz Kafka is the father of the genre, and his novella, The Metamorphosis, often represents the genre.

Absurdist fiction is all about the meaningless of life. As the main character floats through the story, they'll encounter surreal situations that won't even make them waver.

The lack of judgment from the main character or narrator means that you're left to form your own opinion of what's really going on.

Some of these situations might be satirical, darkly comedic, or just downright bizarre, and that's what makes absurdist fiction so fun to read—even long after these books were written.

Here are the best absurdist books you should add to your collection and read if you haven't already.

5. The Plague (Albert Camus)

The Plague explores a plague epidemic that runs rampant in Oran, Algeria. A quarantine locks Dr. Bernard Rieux in Algeria, where he remains separated from his sick wife.

The novel outlines the different reactions in the face of death—some are quick to blame, while others leave themselves to die.

On the surface, The Plague just seems like a book about a deadly disease, but at the same time, it also serves as an allegory for Nazi-occupied France.

4. Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut)

Slaughterhouse-Five is another solid entry by Vonnegut, and yet again covers the topic of war.

This novel follows Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier who gets captured by the German army during World War II, and later gets thrown into an alien zoo.

Billy recounts his absurd story through flashbacks and time travel. The novel's non-linear format makes it an especially bizarre, but entertaining read.

3. Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami)

Haruki Murakami is known for his mind-bending works, and Kafka on the Shore is no stranger to surrealism. The main character, fittingly named Kafka, is a teenage boy trying to escape an inevitable fate.

Meanwhile, an elderly man who can talk to cats embarks on a journey with a truck driver. Murakami interweaves these two seemingly unrelated stories, with every piece of the puzzle slowly coming together as the novel progresses.

2. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)

Catch-22 is one of the most prominent war novels to date, thanks to the absurd tactics Heller uses to tell his story. It's set in Italy during World War II, and relays the experience of Yossarian, a frustrated bombardier.

As the army keeps increasing the number of missions soldiers must fly in order to finish their term, Yossarian wants out. But if Yossarian tries to get excused from these perilous missions, he'll be breaking Catch-22.

This outrageous rule declares that any man who keeps performing combat missions is insane, but any man who asks to be dismissed is considered sane, and isn't qualified to get relieved of service.

1. Cat's Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut)

Cat's Cradle is a classic entry in the absurdist genre. It follows John, a journalist who sets out to write a book about the atomic bomb that was used on Hiroshima.

After he gets in touch with the son of Dr. Hoenikker, one of the atomic bomb's creators, he learns of someone called ice-nine. This dangerous chemical can freeze over the whole world, and it's been split among Dr. Hoenikker's three offbeat children.

More Crazy Stories to Read

When you need a break from reality, dive into the alternate universe inside one of these novels. As absurd as they may be, they speak volumes about the way we live today.

And if you want to keep exploring new worlds and realities, you should check out some excellent modern fantasy books.