‘The strange thing about life is that though the nature of it must have been apparent to every one for hundreds of years, no one has left any adequate account of it.’ –Virginia Woolf

Back in 2009, The Millions started its “Difficult Books” series–devoted to identifying the hardest and most frustrating books ever written, as well as what made them so hard and frustrating. The two curators, Emily Colette Wilkinson and Garth Risk Hallberg, have selected the most difficult of the most difficult. […]

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf - In its intermingling of separate consciousnesses, Virginia Woolf’s fiction is both intellectually and psychically difficult. Not only is it hard to tell who’s who and who’s saying or thinking what, it is also disconcerting—even queasy-making—to be set adrift in other minds, with their private rhythms and associative patterns. It feels, at times, like being occupied by an alien consciousness. […]

Women & Men by Joseph McElroy - In this space I could put any number of postmodern meganovels - a subgenre I’ve been smitten with for many years now. There’s William Gaddis’ JR, which is easier than people make it out to be, and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, which is harder. There’s The Recognitions and Mason & Dixon. There’s William H. Gass’ The Tunnel - verbally lucid, but morally arduous. Of the lot, though, I’d like to shine the spotlight again on Joseph McElroy’s Women & Men. It is longer than any of the foregoing, and, in the idiosyncracies of its prose, on par with the hardest. Parts of it, anyway. Its temperament, though, is completely sui generis - warm, humanist, synthetic rather than analytic.

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