Although he denied his affiliation with the movement, critics are generally inclined to say that Albert Camus was an existentialist. Born 100 years ago today, the author is responsible for Nobel Prize-winning classics like The Stranger and The Fall that sit at the top of the “philosophical fiction” pile.
Philosophical fiction isn’t always the easiest to define unless the author clearly states that there was a philosophical framework guiding the text, thus embedding that philosophy within the plot. It’s more common that writers’ personal politics and ideas get them lumped in with a specific movement, making everything in their bodies of work seem like they carry a message hidden carefully between the lines. So, in honor of the Camus centennial, here are ten works of fiction to satisfy your inner philosopher.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche
If you’re going to compose a list of philosophical novels without including this German philosopher’s novel of the Übermensch, then we regret to inform you that your philosophical fiction list is nein.
Under the Net, Iris Murdoch
Murdoch’s debut is surprisingly easy to read, and main character Jake Donaghue’s reassessment of his life is a philosophical tour de force filled with deep realizations that make this an unforgettable read.
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
There’s a philosophical undercurrent in everything Tolstoy wrote, but he admitted to being under the influence of German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer during the period when he wrote this epic.
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
As with Tolstoy’s classic, it’s difficult to write a book that’s large in pages and scope without allowing some sort of underlying philosophy (or philosophies) to creep in. And that goes double when David Foster Wallace is doing the typing.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
We picked the novel that would eventually become the film Blade Runner, but any good “Dickhead” knows that you don’t have to go far below the surface of any of his works to find some nuggets of philosophy from this author who knew a thing or two about it.
Labyrinths, Jorge Luis Borges
You read even one page of Borges, and it is immediately apparent that his wisdom was nearly infinite. The Argentinian writer was known to borrow bits from sources like Jewish Kabbalah, the Ancient Greeks, and Thomas Carlyle for his stories and poems.
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
There are two ways you can read Conrad’s masterpiece: as a great book, full stop, or as a great book influenced by the writings of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Since it isn’t that long, we suggest trying to read it both ways.
After Many a Summer, Aldous Huxley
Any death-obsessed book is obviously going to be filled with philosophical musings, but Huxley’s overlooked classic has the bonus of containing yet another thinly veiled biography of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, most memorably dramatized in Orson Welles’ iconic Citizen Kane.
The Glass Bead Game, Herman Hesse
Looking for a book about a person searching for some realness in this world? This, or any of Hesse’s other classics, will do nicely.
Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre
We couldn’t do a list of philosophical works pegged to the birthday of Albert Camus and not include this, one of the most important works in the existential canon, written by his best frenemy, Jean-Paul Sartre.