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An antinovel is any novel that disregards traditional conventions of novel-writing. These books push the limits of what a novel can be.

This might mean they don’t follow a traditional plot structure, use characters as readers aren’t used to them being used, or follow an unusual format (for example, telling events outside of chronological order). Readers might also find the author’s characters experiencing the world in a different way. It may be distorted in some way.

Antinovel pronunciation: aha-tee nah-vuhl
Antinovel definition and examples


Definition of Antinovel

An antinovel is a book that does some or all of the following:

  • It lacks a cohesive plot.
  • Little to no character development.
  • Events occur out of order, or their order is impossible to understand.
  • The use of blank or extra pages.
  • The inclusion of alternative endings.
  • The inclusion of drawings.
  • Experimentation with syntax and diction.

These novels actively seek out ways to stand out from what readers are traditionally familiar with. They use these techniques, and others, as a way to suggest that there should be no standard for literature. There are many different ways to tell a story.

History of the Antinovel

The term was taken from the French, “anti-roman,” and rose to prominence after it was used by Jean-Paul Sartre in an introduction he wrote for Portrait d’un inconnu, in English Portrait of a Man Unknown, by Nathalie Sarraute in 1948. But, the term had been used to some extent dating back to 1633 and Charles Sorel’s Le Berger extravagant. Interestingly, some have suggested that the first novels, like Don Quixote, were themselves antinovels because they were pioneering a new format for literature.

Examples of Antinovels

theMystery.doc by Matthew McIntosh

theMystery.doc is a contemporary example of an antinovel and one that is not universally loved by all readers. This is due in part to the format. McIntosh used one of the classic elements of an antinovel, experimentation with structure, to create the storyline. The novel follows a writer who wakes up with no memory of who he is or his life. The only clue is a single document on his computer. The book doesn’t read like a traditional novel. It’s complex, hard to understand in parts, and uses numerous interesting and baffling symbols. The book was published in 2017. Here are a few lines from Act II: Real Human Bodies.

You were doing spy work…

Yeah, it was a combination and all—and mind you, we had very little training…very little training—

The girl closed her eyes and screamed—an awful scream, terrorized—and you would never want to hear that scream again—and she punch down on the horn, BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASCREAMING!!!!

Here, readers can see how the writer briefly moves in and out of all-caps, something that occurs again a few lines later as he continues to describe the screaming girl. The lines are also clearly fragmented, something that makes the novel more challenging to read but also makes it stand out as an example of an antinovel.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne

This novel is often cited as the original antinovel. It was published in nine volumes in 1759. It uses examples of digression, double entendre, similes, and more. At the heart of the novel are Tristram Shandy’s life and the fact that as he narrates, he does so in the most complex manner. He contains many of the narrator’s opinions and doesn’t even reach the point of his birth until the third volume. Here are a few lines from the book:

I have undertaken, you see, to write not only my life, but my opinions also; hoping and expecting that your knowledge of my character, and of what kind of a mortal I am, by the one, would give you a better relish for the other: As you proceed further with me, the slight acquaintance which is now beginning betwixt us, will grow into familiarity; and that, unless one of us is in fault, will terminate in friendship.

It’s a running joke throughout the book that the narrator is incapable of simply telling his story. This is one of the reasons that The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, is considered an antinovel.

This is Not a Novel by David Markson

This is Not a Novel is written from the perspective of an unnamed author. He’s facing his imminent death and is attempting to write something true before he loses his life. The first sections of the book are constructed with quotes and a variety of statements about the writer’s life. But, the novel becomes more of a whole experience as it progresses.

Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavić

This novel is a great example of how fully a writer can discard traditions of novel-writing and make them new. It was originally written in Serbian and published in 1984. There is no real plot. Instead, it is an overlay of three different mini-encyclopedias that define the religious conversion of the Khazar people with contradicting “facts.”


Why do authors create antinovels?

Authors create antinovels when they want to push the limits of what a novel can be. These books experiment with convention, often resulting in brilliant and engaging new forms of storytelling.

How to write an antinovel?

Writing an antinovel isn’t a simple task. It requires the writer to rebel against convention, transform their normal writing practice, and willingly throwing out the structures they may have depended on in the past.

What does novel mean?

A novel is a long, written, fictional narrative that includes some amount of realism. A novel is usually in the form of prose and published as one book. Prose, or ordinary language in its written form, is contrasted with verse or words written with a metrical arrangement (poetry).

How is Slaughterhouse-Five an antinovel?

Slaughterhouse-Five has many of the attributes of an antinovel. The novel does not progress linearly. The protagonist is unreliable, it’s uncertain which parts of the book are fact and which are fiction, and the author, Kurt Vonnegut, inserts himself as a character.

Why is Tristram Shandy called an antinovel?

Tristram Shandy is an antinovel because of the strange and complex way the narrator tells his life story. He goes on digressions and gets caught up in discussions about everything one can imagine.

  • Allegory: a narrative found in verse and prose in which a character or event is used to speak about a broader theme.
  • Allusion: an indirect reference to, including but not limited to, an idea, event, or person. It is used within both prose and verse writing.
  • Prose: a written and spoken language form that does not make use of a metrical pattern or rhyme scheme.
  • Metafiction: refers to stories in which the characters, author, or narrator acknowledge the fact that they’re parts of fiction.
  • Metaphor: used to describe an object, person, situation, or action in a way that helps a reader understand it, without using “like” or “as.”
  • Literary Modernism: originated in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was mainly focused in Europe and North America.

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