If you're asking "what books should I read to understand Postmodern Literature", I'm here to answer that question for you. As I discussed in another article "Postmodern Literature Characteristics", Postmodern literature is a form of experimental literature that is characterized by the use of metafiction (emphasizes its own constructedness to continually reminds the reader to be aware they are reading or viewing a fictional work), unreliable narration (the credibility of narrator is compromised), self-reflexivity (happens when a sentence, idea or formula refers to itself), intertextuality (the complex interrelationship between a text taken as basic to the creation or interpretation of the text), and which often thematizes both historical and political issues. This style emerged strongly in the 1960s mainly in Burroughs' novel "Naked Lunch in Paris" in 1959. This is considered by some the first truly postmodern novel because it is fragmentary, with no central narrative arc. It also employs pastiche to fold in elements from popular genres such as detective fiction and science fiction. After Burrough, works of authors such as Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, Philip K. Dick, Kathy Acker, and John Barth were examples of implementing a Postmodern perspective. So, here is the list of my top 10 favorite authors and their books which I believe are the best works in Transgressive Fiction in the sense of breaking the norms and literature that implement Postmodernism in their writing.
Note: some links in this article are to articles that are not yet published. Please check later.
This science Fiction novel contains almost all of the essential themes of postmodernism fiction. Unlike the movie which does not have some of the themes that originated in the book, the novel definitely sets forth a tone from which those added themes naturally reveal themselves. The novel is set in a completely urbanized future and the story began with several replicants have escaped from an off-world colony and immigrated to earth. A special police officer, Rick Deckard, works as a bounty hunter who kills or as it mentions in the book 'retires' androids that illegally come to earth after killing or injuring their owners. He is assigned the job of killing the six Nexus-6 type robots who recently arrived on Earth after one of them injured his superior officer. The plot unfolds along the lines of his search for each of the androids.
In this future where much of reality has been pushed aside by the multinational capitalistic corporations' use of the simulacrum. What makes it postmodern are political perspectives over humanity as well as a blurred line between what the author really believes is good or bad and what he wants you to assume as good or bad. As an example, humans in this society are doing similar things to androids as politicians have done in the past to justify the enslavement or extermination of an entire ethnicity or religion. The specials, which are humans that have mutated because of the fallout, have been given status between androids and humans. Most humans look down upon them with disgust and think that they have lost their humanity. This seems to contradict the idea of only needing to have compassion for others to be human, especially because many humans in the novel are not compassionate.
Baldwin’s early years formed the basis for his first novel (semi-autobiographical), Go Tell It on the Mountain. All of Baldwin’s novels contain powerful passages and superior writing. Normally, the subject is the racial situation in the US. This novel tells the story of John Grimes, an intelligent teenager in 1930s in Harlem, and his relationship with his family and his church as a journey to Jesus. A journey made possible only by his reciprocated affection for, and possibly reciprocated attraction to, another young man. The novel is just as much one of comings, if not quite one of coming out. In my opinion, Baldwin gives us a subtle but radical vision of queer male Christianity that is obscured, because it's focalized through the uncomprehending perspective of his adolescent protagonist. When we try to see beyond protagonist's limited understanding of his own conversion experience, we see that Baldwin has given us a postmodern sentimental but political vision of his literary double's sincere, queer encounter with the sacred. Baldwin's radical message goes against the norms of "tolerance" or "acceptance" of non-heteronormative identities or behaviors.
3. Vladimir Nabokov: Pale Fire (1962)
Like many other writers during the American prose of the 60s, Nabokov represents the main link between the earliest periods of the modernist movement and the development of that way of writing that is called “postmodernist” in the USA (Daiu, 2000). Pale Fire among his works is seen as Nabokov's masterpiece. This novel is based on John Shade’s final poem, "Pale Fire." So, the novel comprises the text of the poem itself. What makes it postmodern is the two plots structure of this novel: the apparent plot that is by a delusional unreliable narrator named Kinbote who is a professor of Zemblan at Wordsmith College and the true plot that is what actually happened in the story. In the apparent plot, two characters, Kinbote and Shade are close friends and neighbors. On their frequent nightly walks, Kinbote tells Shade true stories about King Charles of Zembla's reign, the revolution that overthrew him, and his daring escape from Zembla. As Kinbote reveals more about King Charles, it becomes clear that Kinbote believes he is King Charles and is disguised as Charles Kinbote to avoid the extremist Zemblan assassinate him. Of course, this is not at all true as Kinbote is a delusional megalomaniac and his narration is completely unreliable. So, a careful reader can piece together Nabokov’s clues and arrive at the novel’s true plot, which is V. Botkin is a Russian-born language professor at College who is not well-liked by his colleagues because he’s an unpleasant, eccentric, thin-skinned, self-centered, gay, and a pedophile—not to mention clinically insane, suffering from delusions and hallucinations that he cannot control.
The way Nabokov put together the story, the whole structure, and the plot make this novel as one of the most striking early examples of postmodernism and has become a famous test case for theories about reading because of the apparent impossibility of deciding between several radically different interpretations.
4. Julio Cortazar: Hopscotch (1963)
Hopscotch is a novel by Argentine writer Julio Cortázar written in Spanish and later translated into English in 1966. It is a surrealistic book that breaks all expected creative writing structures and rules. It is a stream-of-consciousness that can be read according to 2 different sequences of chapters with exploration with multiple endings through unanswerable questions. This book is highly influenced by Henry Miller’s reckless and relentless search for truth in post-decadent Paris and Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki’s modal teachings on Zen Buddhism, Surrealism, and the French New Novel, as well as the "riffing" aesthetic of jazz and New Wave Cinema. If that's not postmodern, I don't know what is.
The book is split into 56 regular chapters and 99 'expendable' ones. It can be read either straight through the regular chapters (ignoring the expendable ones) or following numbers left at the end of each chapter telling you which one to read next which can be (73 – 1 – 2 – 116 – 3 – 84, and so on.).
5. Manuel Puig: Kiss of the Spider Woman (1976)
Kiss of the Spider Woman is one of the best examples of a postmodern book with includes no traditional narrative voice. It depicts the daily conversations between two cellmates in an Argentine prison and the intimate bond they form in the process. The majority of this book is written as dialogue, with no indication of who is speaking, except for a dash (-) to show a change of speaker. Also, there are significant portions of stream-of-consciousness writing. The rest of the book is written as meta-fictional documentation. The conversations between act as a form of escape from their environment. Thus there are the main plot, several subplots, and five additional stories. However this style is criticized by many, I see it as postmodern dominance in the story and a master of narrative craftsmanship.
6. Jean Rhys: Wild Saragosa Sea (1966)
Wide Sargasso Sea is a prequel to Jane Eyre (1847), describing the background to Mr. Rochester's marriage from the point-of-view of his wife Antoinette Cosway, a Creole heiress. Antoinette's story in this novel is told from the time of her youth in Jamaica followed by her unhappy marriage to Mr. Rochester, who renames her Bertha, declares her mad, takes her to England, and isolates her from the rest of the world in his mansion. Wide Sargasso Sea explores the power of relationships between men and women and discusses the themes of race, Caribbean history, and assimilation from a postcolonial, postmodern and feminist perspective. The postmodernism in her book is demonstrated in her dramatization of slavery in the Caribbean islands. She makes cultural and historical references where she problematizes Englishness as a national and cultural identity that could depend on race. Hence the usage of terms emphasizes cultural identity such as "black Englishman" and "white niggers, she exemplifies postmodernism in its insistence on the impossibility of an individual existing as one unified subject. This shows that the characters had to exist by associating themselves with a specific identity.
7. Toni Morrison: Sula (1973)
Sula is the story of two black women friends and of their community of Medallion, Ohio that is stunted and turned inward by the racism of the larger society. Unlike the conceptual spaces of the traditional philosophies, this novel is a literary work presented from a Postmodern, feminist approach toward racial injustice. The protagonist is tired of everything that connects her to submission and decides to follow her own way of life. This book is a bridge between the discourse of Morrison, who is addressing her message in the name of Sula, and that of postmodernism, which is a deviation from representation and a turn towards self-reflexiveness.
8. Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore (2002)
Just like all other Murakami's books, Kafka on the Shore is essentially a book about the mystery of time, and the magic of metaphor. It is comprising two distinct but interrelated plots, back-and-forth narratives between both plots, taking up each plotline in alternating chapters. This style of blurring the plot lines and narrative is one of the postmodern literary characteristics. Also, the odd-numbered chapters tell the teenage Kafka's story as he runs away from his father's house to find his mother and sister. After a series of adventures, he finds shelter in a quiet, private library in Takamatsu, run by Miss Saeki and Oshima. There he spends his days reading until the police begin inquiring after him in connection with the murder of his father that he does not know he has committed. The even-numbered chapters tell Nakata's story and the cat he found. They start with military reports of a strange incident in Yamanashi Prefecture where multiple children, including Nakata, collapse in the woods. After the incident, Nataka is the only one of the children who survived the incident without any memory and lose his ability to read and write.
This story demonstrates Murakami's typical blend of pop culture, mundane detail, magical realism, suspense, humor, an involved plot, and potent sexuality as well as Japanese religious traditions, particularly Shinto. The main characters in this book are significantly different from the typical protagonists of a Murakami novel and have rather monotonous and boring personalities making it more similar to his other novel After Dark. Overall, I consider it a postmodern novel that contains magical realistic events.
This meta-fictional novel is a one-sided conversation between a Pakistani professor named Changez, and an unnamed nervous American. The novel uses the technique of a frame story, which takes place during a single evening in an outdoor Lahore cafe, where Changez talks about his love affair with an American woman, and his eventual abandonment of America. This book is an example of a dramatic monologue and auto-diegetic narration (a narrator who is also the protagonist). What makes this novel a postmodern one is its representations of hyperreality and postcolonial intersections with postmodern texts. The novel chronicles the protagonist's life before, during, and after 9/11 and how his perspective on America’s capitalist-centered society and his own identity shifts in the wake of the attacks. The novel is distinct because it is told from the point of view of a Pakistani immigrant to an assumed American audience. Hence, this novel directly confronts the meta-narratives and preconceptions surrounding predominately Muslim countries after 9/11. The postmodern tropes in this book allow for an acute interrogation of the historicizing of this event and what role fiction has in creating and re-imagining history.
10. Kazou Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go (2005)
This novel is one of the books that I never forgot reading it. It's set in a highly disturbing sci-fi reality in which young people try to make sense of their relationships and an increasingly hopeless world. This book is seen as a postmodernist novel by many critics in literacy criticism. The author's postmodernist satiric approach towards the late 1990s' advances in the field of biotechnology is represented by Hailsham as a dystopian school where the students who are actually donors are supposed to develop their artistic talents and learn how to keep their bodies healthy. This story can be read on 3 levels: As a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences of science, as a metaphorical examination of slavery and exploitation of workforce and as a meditation on the human condition. In this story, the author envisioned alternative reality aftermath of the Second World War. In this world, scientists made major breakthroughs in defeating cancer, heart disease, and other human ailments through the use of clones. These clones are a class of people who aren’t people. They are created through an undescribed process so that, as young adults, their organs can be harvested for use by the normals (real humans). The protagonist, Kathy H., and her friends face this future with satire.
Let me know if you've read any of these or if you would like to add another title to this list.