Book Club / Culture

Our list of the best postmodern books to expand your mind

best postmodern books

I'm sure you read about postmodernism in school. The writing is often fragmented and animated. It plays with intertextuality and metafiction. The movement and style of writing became popular in the 1950s and 1960s as a reaction to modernist literature's quest for meaning in light of the significant human rights violations of World War II. It's not all so serious though. Although some of the books listed delve into themes of war and morality, Postmodernism can also come in a lighter shade. Some works of postmodernism come in the form of coming of age stories and delve into the nuances of relationships.

Iconoclastic and irreverent, the postmodern novel is a departure from the regular tropes of fiction. They are used at times when authors feel that the fictional norms have become exhausted and they need to widen their toolbox in order to tell their story. So, if you're in the mood for a story that will bend your sense of reality, here are the best postmodern books to get your hands on.


Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest blends philosophy and comedy to explore the meaning of entertainment and how it has come to dominate our lives. Set in an addicts' halfway house and a tennis academy, it bends every rule of fiction and examines the nature of connection with other people.


The Volcano Lover, Susan Sontag

This historical novel by Susan Sontag is set in Naples. It's the story of art and love but turned into an inquiry about the nature of heroism, art collecting and imperialism in Sontag's own tone of voice. A subverted version of a historical romance novel.


Blood and Guts in High School, Kathy Acker

best postmodern books

This story is a gritty tale about how a girl locked in a room found a scrap of paper and began to write down her life. The story includes all the good meaty topics: lust, sex, gangs, pain, feminism and the city. It's the book that launched Kathy Acker and made her the avant-garde literary icon she is today.


Outline, Rachel Cusk

best postmodern books

This 2014 book by Rachel Cusk is a work of autofiction where both she and the narrator are at once absent whilst somehow staying present. This is her first novel in the trilogy followed by Transit and Kudos. Set on a brief trip to Greece, the protagonist does very little and says even less.


White Teeth, Zadie Smith

This novel deals with the big stuff. Friendship, war, love and peace. It deals with families over three generations and the fascinating way the past comes back up to bite you when you least expect it.


1Q84, Haruki Murakami 

best postmodern books

The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo. The story centres around two main characters whose stories inevitably merge. A woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver's suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. Before she knows it, she's entered a puzzling existence which she calls 1Q84. The Q stands for a question mark. Alongside Aomame's story, we meet Tengo who takes on a suspicious ghostwriting project. As he becomes wrapped up in his work, his previously tepid life begins to unravel.


Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders

best postmodern books

The premise is strange, but the setup is phenomenal. The book is about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven-year-old son at the dawn of the Civil War. From the seeds of historical truth, Saunders spins a tail of unforgettable love and loss. The son Willie finds himself trapped in a transitional realm called 'the bardo' and we experience a kaleidoscope of voices living and dead, historical and fictional.


The Catcher in the Rye, J. D Salinger

best postmodern books

This is the coming of age novels of all novels, but frankly, it's a great read at any time. If you're not familiar with the story already, it's told by 17-year-old Holden Caulfield as he's kicked out of his fourth school. Throughout the book, he tries to dissect the 'phony' aspects of society. The magic of the novel lies in listening to Caulfield speak and go about his daily dealings. It also deals with the effects on American morale after the two world wars.


Catch 22, Jospeh Heller

Catch 22 has withstood the test of time for decades at this point. The book is a must read for anyone looking to get into the genre and not sure where to start, or end. It's a classic satire about the closing months of WWII in an American bomber squadron off the coast of Italy. The story centres Yossarian who goes around in circles trying to leave the war and somehow always ends up still there. It's a hilarious and tragic tale of military madness and simply must be read.


Franny and Zooey, J.D Salinger 

best postmodern books

J.D Salinger originally published the novel as two sequential stories in The New Yorker as a portrait of the two youngest members of the Glass family. Franny Glass's story takes us on a date with her college boyfriend, Lane. Meanwhile, the second story 'Zooey' takes into the world of her ethereal, sophisticated family. Franny seeks out consolidation from her older brother.


Desperate Characters, Paula Fox


best postmodern books

Set in a changing neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York, Desperate Characters is a story about when the cracks start to show. Otto and Sophie Bentwood are going about their normal lives when Sophie is bitten by a stray cat. This event leads to a series of ominous disasters that plague the Bentwood's lives.

If you're not done reading, we've got so many more lists for you to check out. From best holiday reads to the Australian books we consider essential reading, you're sure to find the one that will get you.

Shouldn't you be on the list?

Sign up to the RUSSH Club for exclusive offers and invitations.