5 Book Recommendations for People Who Love Experimental Writing

Claire Handscombe

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If you like your books raw and a little experimental, you might have to dig beyond the bestseller displays in bookstores and the trending pictures on Instagram. But never fear, I have recommendations!

Autumn, by Ali Smith

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The first in a quartet of novels, Ali Smith’s Autumn has been called the first Brexit novel, firmly rooted in the present but reaching back into the past too. “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times,” it begins, a sentiment that many of us can relate to as we look back on 2016. Ali Smith won the Baileys prize — the UK’s most prominent prize for women writers — with her previous novel, How to Be Both, and the Independent newspaper has called her “one of the most inventive novelists writing in Britain today” and “one of the country’s foremost chroniclers, her finger firmly on the social and political pulse.”

Dept of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

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I think of this one as a cross-genre prose poem/story of a marriage, with the intimacy of a memoir though it's called a novel. Beautiful, heart-breaking, eminently quotable. Tometimes there is a reason everyone is climbing on the same bandwagon. It felt like everyone was talking about this one when it came out, but sometimes there is a reason everyone is climbing on the same bandwagon.

“A startling feat of storytelling . . . Each line a dazzling, perfectly chiseled arrowhead aimed at your heart," says Vanity Fair.

First Love, by Gwendoline Riley

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Like Dept of Speculation, but very different in feel, this is another beautifully written exploration of an imperfect marriage, more kaleidoscope than story as it jumps back and forth through time. I was excited to see it shortlisted for the prestigious Baileys Prize.

A review in The Guardian says that the author "takes a familiar theme of midlife minor angst and focuses in, closer and closer, until the banal becomes surreal, even beautiful. The effect is beguiling . . . First Love is an exquisite and combative piece of news from nowhere—which is everywhere, too.”

I Love Dick, by Chris Kraus

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If the mark of a good book is being a little obsessed with it and desperate to discuss it with another reader, then this is a five-star book for me! I don't even know if I enjoyed it -- but I was mesmerised. It's about a married woman who becomes obsessed with a man called Dick after a dinner in Pasadena. But it's also a meditation on art.

Here's what author Rachel Kushner says about it: "The intelligence and honesty and total originality of Chris Kraus make her work not just great but indispensable―especially now, when everything is so confusing, so full of despair. I read everything Chris Kraus writes; she softens despair with her brightness, and with incredible humor, too."

Stubborn Archivist, by Yara Rodrigues Fowler

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In this novel, a young woman from South London grows up between two cultures, frequently returning to visit Brazil and learning to connect with her other home there and what it means for her to be both British and Brazilian.

Book Riot’s Nicole Froio loves this book. Here’s what she said about it:

“An #OwnVoices triumph…A daring debut novel, when the narrative is a mix of stunning prose and poetry…We need more novels like this, novels that tell stories that haven’t been told before. What is interesting about Stubborn Archivist is that it feels completely new, even though these stories have been told by word-of-mouth through generations of immigrant women. We need more novels that make people like me feel deeply seen as an immigrant, a Brazilian woman, and a daughter.”

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

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