10 Novels That We Dare You to Finish


Peter Nadas’s novel Parallel Stories, which will be released this November, clocks in at well over 1,000 pages. In an interview with New York, the Hungarian author queried, “Why wouldn’t ­Musil, Mann, or Broch be my contemporaries?” In honor of his ambition, we’ve compiled a list of 10 novels that could also function as doorstops if you decide to give up on them. Maybe you’ve tried to impress your friends by casually mentioning that you’re finally reading Proust, or you’re the annoying person on the train with the weighty tome in both hands, jostling into your fellow passengers because you can’t spare a free hand — whatever the reason, we salute you, foolhardy readers. Have any of you finished the following novels with ease? If so, let us know in the comments section.

Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas

Page count: 1152

Year released: 2011

Time it took to write the damn thing: 18 years

Story: This novel will be released in the late fall, and New York calls it “an ungodly book — about capitalism and the Church, about communism and no Church; Hungarian nationalists and ­Jewish lumber merchants; gay intelligence officers in Budapest bathhouse bacchanals and Gypsy Gastarbeiters. All of Magyardom seems to be in it, along with wide demographic swaths of Italy, France, Austria, and, especially, Germany.”

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil

Page count: 1,824

Time it took to write the damn thing: the novel is unfinished; Musil began it in 1921 and died in 1942

Story: Jane Smiley in The Guardian writes, “This is one of the most prestigious novels of the 20th century; the sort of book no one has read but everyone has heard of.” She continues, “The writing is so precise and the argument Musil makes about Ulrich and his situation so intricate that it is intellectually and aesthetically involving even before it becomes emotionally so.”

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Page count: 1,296

Time it took to write the damn thing: four years (1865-1869)

Story: In the introduction, Tolstoy writes, “This work is more similar to a novel or a tale than to anything else, but it is not a novel because I cannot and do not know how to confine the characters I have created within the given limits — a marriage or a death after which the interest in the narration would cease.”

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

Page count: 4211

Time it took to write the damn thing: 12 years — but that’s only because he died

Story: According to legend, after reading this epic, seven-volume novel (which contains nearly 1.5 million words!), Virginia Woolf said, “Oh if I could write like that!” Vladimir Nabokov considered the first half of In Search of Lost Time “one of the greatest prose works of the 20th century” (along with Ulysses, The Metamorphosis, and Petersburg). Literary critic Harold Bloom says that Proust’s life work is “widely recognized as the major novel of the 20th century.” Oh, and it’s Michael Chabon’s favorite book.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Page count: 1,104

Time it took to write the damn thing: a mere three years

Story: In an interview with Salon, DFW said, “I wanted to do something real American, about what it’s like to live in America around the millennium.” He continued, “There’s something particularly sad about it, something that doesn’t have very much to do with physical circumstances, or the economy, or any of the stuff that gets talked about in the news. It’s more like a stomach-level sadness. I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness. Whether it’s unique to our generation I really don’t know.”

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Page count: 1,200

Time it took to write the damn thing: 14 years (1943-1957)

Story: In a letter to Rand after publication, the economist Ludwig von Mises gushed, “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Page count: 1,349

Time it took to write the damn thing: 6 years

Story: Richard Woodward at New York writes, “Featuring dozens of characters from interrelated families, a historical setting of the momentous 1952 elections (India’s first after independence in 1947), and passages on land reform, Hindustani music, life styles of Muslim courtesans and the economics of the shoe industry, the novel invites comparisons to the thick and well-researched novels of Trollope and Tolstoy.”

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Page count: 1,028

Time it took to write the damn thing: 9 years

Story: After recovering from a car accident, Mitchell started writing the epic novel. She would win the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1937, though she never published another book after that point. As New Yorker writer Claudia Roth Pierpont has noted, “Mitchell’s book was continually praised for its ‘readability,’ as though this was not the first and simplest requirement of any book.”

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Page count: 1,168

Time it took to write the damn thing: about two years

Story: Dwight Garner writes in The New York Times, “Cryptonomicon is so crammed with incident — there are dozens of major characters, multiple plots and subplots, at least three borderline-sentimental love stories and discursive ruminations on everything from Bach’s organ music and Internet start-ups to the best way to eat Cap’n Crunch cereal — that it defies tidy summary.”

The Story of the Vivian Girls by Henry Darger

Page count: 15,145

Time it took to write the damn thing: many, many years

Story: Darger was an outsider artist, a recluse, and a prolific writer. He was born and raised in Chicago, and lived there from the late 1800s until his death in 1973. His writing was found after his death by his landlord, who also found a cache of his artwork that later sold for thousands of dollars and now commands space in museums worldwide.