If, like me, you're a little bored with plots that follow an obvious arc, you might want to explore some narratives that break the conventional rules...
Vladimir Nabokov£9.99 £9.49
Perhaps the most unusually put-together novel of all time. The first part of the book consists of a poem, Pale Fire, written by (fictional) American poet John Shade. But it's in the notes and annotations, by Shade's neighbour Charles Kinbote, that the real story lies. It becomes clear from his wild interpretations that Kinbote is unhinged and also obsessively in love with the poet. This description doesn't begin to do it justice; the book is hilarious and brilliant and unique. A masterpiece.
Lincoln in the Bardo: WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017
George Saunders£9.99 £9.49
A novel told by a chorus of voices from beyond the grave. Saunders takes an historical incident - Lincoln's grief over his dead son - and combines it with the Tibetan Buddhist concept of the Bardo, or twilight limbo some souls are stuck in after death, to make his profoundly affecting narrative. Not for everyone, perhaps, but certainly a work of genius.
Moby-Dick: or, The Whale
Herman Melville£7.99 £7.59
The powerful elemental story of Captain Ahab and his quest to kill the Great White Whale alternates with chapters on the history of whales and whaling. But that's only one of the many experimental approaches that Melville uses to tell his tale. Published in 1851, its approach caused consternation, but even now it reads as compellingly modern and strange. Everyone should read it at least once.
William Faulkner£9.99 £9.49
A few of Faulkner's novels fit the bill of unusual construction, but let's leave the more famous ones aside today. Wild Palms is made from two separate narratives, told in alternating chapters, each rich and compelling on its own, which never intersect but shine a sort of sideways light on each other. Another novel that now seems far ahead of its time.
Lives of Girls and Women
Alice Munro£9.99 £9.49
Alice Munro is extraordinary, known as one of the finest short story writers of all time. But as with Denis Johnson, is this a collection of stories, or are they parts of a novel? Each segment has the same protagonist, and the cycle takes us from her girlhood to early womanhood. No need in this case to wonder too much about labels - just read it for the pleasure of her writing.
Tony and Susan: Now the major motion picture Nocturnal Animals
Austin Wright£8.99 £8.54
A riveting and unsettling thriller, made of two interlocking stories. In the first, a woman reads a novel sent to her by her ex-husband, a failed writer, and in the second we also read what she's reading. Is he taking revenge on her in words for betraying him? The two stories play off each other in disturbing ways. A nasty but memorable book.
Cloud Atlas: A BBC 2 Between the Covers Book Club Pick - Booker Prize Shortlisted
David Mitchell£9.99 £9.49
David Mitchell has a gift for creating multiple interlocking narratives, but to my mind this is the only book in which he's managed to fit them into a convincing overarching construction, which moves through different times and styles, from far back in the past to an apocalyptic future and back again. Ingenious and masterful.
Virginia Woolf£7.99 £7.59
Another novel told by a chorus of voices. The inner lives of seven friends over a span of time from childhood through adulthood are conveyed through soliloquys, interspersed with scenes of a more detached third-person description of a beach at different times of day. Time and consciousness have never been so beautifully rendered. Unlike anything else in fiction; a book that makes its own exquisite rules.
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter
Mario Vargas Llosa£8.99 £8.54
Several of Vargas Llosa's books could perhaps fit into this list, but I had such a fine time reading this one that it sprang to mind first. At least two stories are interwoven in alternating chapters, the first dealing with a fictionalised account of the author's growing romance with his own aunt (to whom he was later married) and the second relating the increasingly chaotic and entropic episodes of a Peruvian soap opera. The two strands speak over, past and to each other in inventive and hilarious ways. A hugely enjoyable book.