A friend writes, saying: "I’m trying to hunt down novels whose form is that of an encyclopedia, catalogue or dictionary, and where the narrative/non-narrative evolves from the entries. Apart from Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition, Han Shaogong's A Dictionary of Maqiao, Roberto Bolano's Nazi Literature in the Americas, Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars and Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch. Do you know of any others?"

No, I don't. So, over to you guys!

Readers Comments

  1. Consider Harry Mathews's The Journalist, a novel in the form of a diary that gets more systematically elaborate and detailed in its classification system. In a very disconcerting way, the system rather "works" for the reader.

  2. Danilo Kis. A Tomb for Boris Davidovich. profiles of revolutionaries.

    Enrique Vila-Matas. Bartleby & Co. Series of footnotes to nonexistent text.

    Stanislas Lem. A Perfect Vacuum. One Human Minute. Reviews of nonexistent books.

    Stanislas Lem. Imaginary Magnitude. Introductions to scientific textbooks not yet written.

    Rhys Hughes. A New Universal History of Infamy. Riffing off Borges' version.

    It's a start at least...

  3. rowan Somerville Tuesday 18 March 2008

    forgive my vaguery -is there not a Borges story that does this or am I imagining or remembering a dream of one ? -there's Borges for you

  4. Stacey Knecht Tuesday 18 March 2008

    Yes! The Last Window Giraffe, by Peter Zilahy.
    Originally in Hungarian and since 15 March available in English, Anthem Press. And 18 other assorted languages.
    See also
    Stacey Knecht

  5. Not sure if this counts, but Stanley Crawford's Some Instructions to my Wife Concerning the Upkeep of the House and Marriage and to my Son and Daughter Concerning the Conduct of their Childhood (published by Dalkey) is in the form of an informal instruction manual...

    Speaking of Dalkey, here's one I haven't read, but I remember looking at some time back: The Tar Baby by Jerome Charyn. The description from the website:

    "Cast in the form of a hilariously ribald parody of a literary quarterly, The Tar Baby is a brilliant, audacious, story-filled novel populated by an array of brawling academics and earthy townies. A commemorative issue honoring the late Anatole Waxman-Weissman, the book/journal parodies a number of academic fads and concerns as the various contributors expose their and their subject's many idiosyncrasies while pursuing their own private agendas."

    Again, don't know if these are what your friend has in mind, but his inclusion of Hopscotch suggested a looser interpretation...

  6. Edward St. John Tuesday 18 March 2008

    One more: Richard Horn. Encyclopedia. Grove Press, 1969.

  7. The fourth and final section of David Grossman's See Under: Love.

    Alexander Kluge: Case Histories

    and apparently, Dmitri Galkovsky's Infinite Deadlock.

    It's hard for me not to lump in Pale Fire, at least in spirit.

  8. Sam J. Miller Tuesday 18 March 2008

    Karel Capek's "War with the Newts" is made up of newspaper accounts, encyclopedia entries, trade journal articles, telegrams, letters, propaganda pamphlets, official diplomatic missives, etc. And it's amazing.

  9. Not quite the form of an encyclopedia or dictionary, but a fascinating novel about the compiler of a dictionary of mythology: Lempriere's Dictionary by Lawrence Norfolk. Get the British rather than American version if you can.

  10. I think Calvino's "Invisible Cities" probably counts.

  11. Two more: Sarah Emily Miano, Encyclopedia of Snow (London: Picador, 2003) and Garth Risk Hallberg A Field Guide to the North American Family (NY: Mark Batty, 2007)

  12. Sarvenaz Sheybany Wednesday 19 March 2008

    Flaubert's "Dictionary of Received Ideas" is a bit off the mark but might still be of interest.

  13. J. Rudolfo Wilcock. The Temple of Iconoclasts.

  14. there is the wonderful Book of Imaginary Beings by Borges, which Godard quote at the end of his 'Old Place'.

  15. Primo Levi's "The Periodic Table"?

  16. Louis Nowra's novel 'Abaza: a modern encyclopedia' (Picador Australia, 2001) - 'an appalling history of despotism and violence in a fictional Pacific island nation, told using the unusual format of an encyclopedia'.

  17. Alistair McCartney's The End Of the World Book, inspired by his reading the World Book Encyclopedia, and filled with alphabetized musings on memory, friendship, love, and things that may or may not have actually happened (2008, University of Wisconsin Press).

  18. Georges Perec "Life A User's Manual" I believe fits the bill.
    Max Frisch "Man in the Holocene" is riddled with cutouts from an encyclopedia, but the narrative is free from encyclopedic constraints.

  19. Charles Turner Sunday 07 April 2013

    Lawrence Norfolk's books read a bit like a dictionary

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