Top 10 Existential Novels
#10 - FIGHT CLUB [1996] Chuck Palahniuk
FIGHT CLUB [1996] Chuck Palahniuk Image

"It's easy to cry when you realize that everyone you love will reject you or die. On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero."

#09 - JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT [1932] Louis-Ferdinand Celine
JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT [1932] Louis-Ferdinand Celine Image

"The biggest defeat in every department of life is to forget, especially the things that have done you in, and to die without realizing how far people can go in the way of crumminess. When the grave lies open before us, let's not try to be witty, but on the other hand, let's not forget, but make it our business to record the worst of the human viciousness we've seen without changing one word. When that's done, we can curl up our toes and sink into the pit. That's work enough for a lifetime."

#08 - MAN'S FATE [1932] Andre Malraux
MAN'S FATE [1932] Andre Malraux Image

"The great mystery is not that we should have been thrown down here at random between the profusion of matter and that of the stars; it is that from our very prison we should draw, from our own selves, images powerful enough to deny our own nothingness."

#07 - STEPPENWOLF [1928] Hermann Hesse
STEPPENWOLF [1928] Hermann Hesse Image

"I believe that the struggle against death, the unconditional and self-willed determination to live, is the motive power behind the lives and activities of all outstanding men."

#06 - THE WOMAN IN THE DUNES [1962] Kobo Abe
THE WOMAN IN THE DUNES [1962] Kobo Abe Image

"Are you shoveling to survive, or surviving to shovel?"

#05 - NAUSEA [1938] Jean-Paul Sartre
NAUSEA [1938] Jean-Paul Sartre Image

"I exist, that is all, and I find it nauseating."

#04 - THE TRIAL [1925] Franz Kafka
THE TRIAL [1925] Franz Kafka Image

"Logic may indeed be unshakeable, but it cannot withstand a man who is determined to live. Where was the judge he had never seen? Where was the High Court he had never reached? He raised his hands and spread out all his fingers. But the hands of one of the men closed round his throat, just as the other drove the knife deep into his heart and turned it twice."

#03 - INVISIBLE MAN [1952] Ralph Ellison
INVISIBLE MAN [1952] Ralph Ellison Image

"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie extoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me."

#02 - NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND [1864] Fyodor Dostoevsky
NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND [1864] Fyodor Dostoevsky Image

"But yet I am firmly persuaded that a great deal of consciousness, every sort of consciousness, in fact, is a disease."

#01 - THE STRANGER [1942] Albert Camus
THE STRANGER [1942] Albert Camus Image

"Throughout the whole absurd life I'd lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind leveled whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real than the ones I was living. What did other people's deaths or a mother's love matter to me; what did his God or the lives people choose or the fate they think they elect matter to me when we're all elected by the same fate . . ."

User Comments - Add a Comment
Milosimpatica - 2008-02-13 02:48:46
Don't know if this is an existential novel, but Auster's The Locked Room: In the end, each life is no more than the sum of contingent facts, a chronicle of chance intersections, of flukes, of random events that divulge nothing but their own lack of purpose.
86me - 2008-02-13 04:04:10
great list. good to see the stranger.
Anonymous - 2008-02-13 06:08:46
What about Waiting for Godot? Great list though.
joey - 2008-02-18 03:57:00
Waiting for Godot is a play.
Anonymous - 2008-02-28 12:32:03
the stranger is one of my favorite books. great list.
rich - 2008-03-13 04:47:17
i took an existentialism in film and literature course and my favorite book was Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov. That is some deeply interesting stuff
Anonymous - 2008-03-17 23:50:06
what about hickhikers guide to the galaxy? they can be funny
Anonymous - 2008-03-23 04:22:13
camus==absurdist absurdist=/=existentialist
Anonymous - 2008-03-25 16:43:53
Well thats what Camus would say
izzy. - 2008-04-26 15:18:53
Spontaneously picked up Stomp! by Nicholas van Pelt in a used bookstore. Surprisingly gripping novel. Very up-front that its protagonist is an existentialist and has seen how his entire life has been shaped by the events of a single season in his teen years. But I think it qualifies despite its openness of message.
Ben - 2008-10-24 03:42:46

Kazuo Ishiguro - The Unconsoled. I read it again recently and it blows my mind every time. Truely an amazing experiance.

Dwayne - 2008-11-12 03:43:40

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. Should get a mention.

Disco - 2009-01-18 23:06:28

Dale M - 2009-02-13 18:43:25

Great list. Might also consider The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Walker Percy's The Moviegoer (heavily influenced by Kierkagaard), and the works of Richard Yates.

Jani - 2009-03-14 18:23:11

You totally forgot American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis A dark and disturbing yet intense study of human emotion(lessness)

Blake - 2009-04-29 05:09:17

Honorable mention Stephen King's - The Long Walk, most terrifying book ive ever read.

ShaKha - 2009-05-02 02:26:25

This is a great list and the Stranger is a fantastic book (my favourite book), but Camus was not an existentialist. He was an absurdist.

ben Bradshaw - 2009-05-17 01:04:19

there was a DVD made of some (or all) of beckett's plays, including waiting for godot

greg - 2009-06-09 00:28:01

The stranger is a great book, it has made a huge impact on my life.

AKW - 2009-06-15 20:40:14

"Nausea" should be higher than five I think. The book is not so much a novel as much as it is an Exitentialist handbook, in which it outlines the central components of the philosophy.

Anonymous - 2009-06-23 16:54:28

regarding the absurd: it is a key element of the construct which has ultimately come to be regarded as existential thought. it's not necessary to be an existential-ist, per se, to have contributed to the foundations of the philosophy. Simone de Beauvoir deserves a spot on the list. "All Men are Mortal", maybe?

Unamuno - 2009-07-24 17:18:03

Invisible Man is the furthest thing from an Existential Novel.

the great gagu - 2009-07-30 15:28:02

"I exist, that is all, and I find it nauseating." I suppose that's a clever way of saying "everything shits me". Cheer up emo kids :)

Umer - 2009-08-08 10:31:53

Nausea must have been at number 1 or 2. its far greater than "the trial" or "the invisible man". though i do place "the stranger" and "notes from underground" in the top 3 list but i think the third in this list must have been "nausea"

Dakk - 2009-10-01 23:02:58

Great list. My favorite quotations. Also good to see The Stranger as #1.

Robert - 2009-12-13 23:23:53

The Fall by Albert Camus belongs on this list, at the top as far as I am concerned.

Chaoren - 2010-02-01 18:37:33

It is a crime that "The Age of Reason" is not on this list.

Aleata Illusion - 2010-05-27 09:23:46

Great list!

g - 2010-07-28 21:08:57

Great list, I've only read 6 of those and liked 3 of them, the others were a bit weird. I'm gonna give it a try with the other 4 books of the list, that I haven't read.

Dan - 2010-08-12 23:56:35

This list is lacking Walden (H.D. Thoreau) and anything by R.W.Emerson. They initiated the modern existential movement. Look a little closer please....

Pete - 2011-05-05 15:19:09

Let's not forget Moby Dick

pop - 2011-05-18 15:30:57
crime and punishment i would add to that list, the character is confronted with absurdness of living, in his angst he commits a crime for the sake of it but does not take responsibility for it leads him into a despair and feelings of guilt until he finally owns up and accepts the ramifications of his act
Lee Paxton - 2012-01-04 14:17:39
Rightly so for Camus to be number one; he is number one in his other books as well, in fact, all of his writing evokes the absurd & existential themes, i.e., a great lyrical & subtle artist, also, very profound in his observations about humanity. As for the books on this list, doubtful that Fight Club, belongs here; I just could barely read this work as it is overvalued & not really that clever; just doesn't deliver. Sorry!
Anonymous - 2012-07-11 04:59:17

This is an interesting list. I hope to read them.

Anonymous - 2012-07-30 21:10:10

Bit of a lack of female authors...

Anonymous - 2012-08-02 11:47:45

Everything by Kerouac.

Anonymous - 2012-08-02 13:21:06

"Bit of a lack of female authors..." So? Its list of "Top 10 Existential Novels" not "Top 10 Existential Novels including few female authors because feminists"

Anon - 2012-08-05 03:24:09

Bravo on adding Abe to the list. Excellent writer and a powerful book.

Anonymous - 2012-10-09 17:33:45

albert camus the stranger is the best among the ten............ but i dint agrre with existentialist theory

philosophy major - 2012-11-26 00:03:01

Great list. I'd also include Heart of Darkness. "the horror, the horror" :)

levi - 2013-01-03 05:24:05

here's a link to the first 7

Hidayat - 2013-03-26 15:03:46

For those confused if Camus is an existensialist or absurdist: why not both? :p after all absurdism is a part of existensialism

R. - 2013-04-20 05:15:51

I'd like to add "The Tunnel", by Sabato... An excerpt: "There are times I feel nothing has meaning. On a tiny planet that has been racing toward oblivion for millions of years, we are born amid sorrow; we grow, we struggle, we grow ill, we suffer, we make others suffer, we cry out, we die, or others die, and new beings are born to begin the senseless comedy all over again." Also "The Tenant" by Topor gets honourable mention.

Jason - 2014-07-13 14:01:51

Nothing's ever touched me like Notes. All these novels are masterpieces, but "Notes From the Underground" will always stand alone.

palousern - 2014-09-01 21:27:24

What about No Exit (Sartre)?

anon - 2014-11-20 04:10:49

bit of a lack of decent existentialist novels written by females. or just zero. can't write about what you don't think of. The Idiot by Dostoevsky my favorite but excellent 10 here

von Goethe - 2014-11-20 05:53:19

It's not a novel but I just have to throw in Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges. Favorite thing I've ever read, mesmerizing. As for lack of female authorship, I agree. But it's not because they're being left out. They don't exist. Sorry:(

niwrad hsif - 2014-11-20 19:53:31

Palahniuk already here but also Invisible Monsters. One more, The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat.

aNoNyMoUs - 2014-11-20 21:01:51

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Mystikan - 2014-12-05 14:53:09

A list like this should definitely include 'The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant' by Stephen Donaldson: "A real man - real in all the ways that we recognize as real - finds himself suddenly abstracted from the world and deposited in a situation that could not possibly exist... he has been brought to that place as a champion for his world. He must fight to the death in single combat against a champion from another world. If he is defeated, he will die, and his world - the real world - will be destroyed because it lacks the inner strength to survive. "The man refuses to believe that what he is told is true. He asserts that he is either dreaming or hallucinating... He is implacable in his determination to disbelieve his apparent situation, and does not defend himself when he is attacked by the champion of the other world. "Question: is the man's behaviour courageous or cowardly? This is the funadamental question of ethics." If you haven't read this epic series, do so. It will completely change the way you look at life.

Anonymous - 2014-12-13 20:25:50

Chuck Palahniuk pretty good, mostly trendy, probably doesn't belong in this top 10. Notes from Underground my favorite followed by everything else he wrote. Dostoevsky is his own category. As for the lack of female authorship comment, the male authors of this top 10 wrote about what it is to be human, not what it is to be a male human. Most/all female authors write about being a woman. And that's fine, just don't expect to make these kinds of lists.

Übermensch - 2014-12-19 01:24:36

Mr. Palahniuk definitely out of his weight class on this one, wildly popular with wealthy suburban teenagers. So if you think listening to Fallout Boy and shopping at Urban Outfitters is profound and original, Fight Club, book and movie, is for you. Simultaneously you probably won't like anything else on this list. And what have we here...a claim of sexism? Another poster here nailed it. Women write about being women which is both severely uninteresting and not generalizable to the overall human experience. I've got a wife that never stops complaining, I'm in no need of a 500 page transcript of it.

HOSPital BiLL - 2014-12-19 03:26:15

A woman will never write about something she has never thought about. Masters of the mundane. Existentialism is nothing but a waste of time to them. Grow up. Instead lets lurch around the house complaining about having to watch the washing machine wash clothes. And anything else she can leverage to be unhappy. Take a good look at your girlfriend/wife, guys, deep thought sold separately at a store nowhere.

eht nus osla sesir - 2014-12-19 21:47:36

Hemingway, heavily heavily influenced by Dostoevsky.

noT Anonymous - 2014-12-21 22:47:05

'Waiting for Godot', Samuel Beckett

Anonymous - 2015-02-13 00:13:43

read only two Sartre and Kafka.....hope to read the rest in the future esp Journey into the Night

anoXamou-s - 2015-06-12 04:23:20

Dostoevsky...again and again and again...

K. - 2015-09-10 21:55:06

Gutenberg is a great station for many unbelievable novels. The Trial is there and I just pit it down to visit this place which I visited when I had forgotten Kafka's book and Hesse's Steppenwolf. I have read both these books, once during my recovery, Hesse was lovely.

Patrick Bateman - 2015-10-11 08:52:00

To whomever said only read Sartre and Kafka, are you joking? I mean, I love them both as well, I own at least 10-15 books of their's combined, I have the cover of Nausea tatted in my leg. But to leave out Dostoyevski, Camus, Kierkegaard, not as much but still, Hoegaarden, Heidegger, etc. The only one I would advise to ignore is by far Nietzsche. Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus is the most mind and thought provoking article/book I have ever read. Most certainly in the top three, and it can be read in 30-45 minutes. I am sorry but I disagree with you very much, especially when giving info to people who may be new to Existentialism.

Patrick Bateman - 2015-10-28 04:45:38

The Myth of Sisyphus should absolutely be in the top 10 best existential or philosophical lists of work as it hits the head of the nail that is not only existentialism, but also the head of the nail, once again please allow my metaphor, of all philosophy as well. With suicide and life as well as life and the absurd. I love seven or eight of the works on this list and understand that the essay/book I mention is not a novel and therefore is excluded from the list due to the nature of the list and the type of writing I mention vs those on the list. So yes, I understand and see why it does not qualify, I just wanted to mention one of, if not the, all time most thought provoking and not only absolute existential but philosophical work of writing as well. All around still a very good list in my humble opinion, but even with only novels my personal list would have two or three different novels, but not many. Kudos to the list maker!!

fRaNnY aNd ZoOeY - 2015-11-24 21:42:29

"Bit of a lack of female authors..." Asking a woman to write an existential novel is like asking a fern to eat a cheeseburger; you're barking up the wrong species.

shguorrub .s mailliw - 2015-12-29 21:28:16

The Woman in the Dunes is great but if you're going to go Abe then it's got to be The Box Man. I don't rank books but I'm unaware of a better novel.

Blake Butler = tool - 2016-01-18 19:49:43

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera and Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Nietzsche.

Mersault - 2016-04-07 21:38:23

Should include Dirty Snow by Georges Simenon and for honorable mention Simenon's The Engagement (of Mr. Hire) and The Widow; otherwise, great list.

pleaSure delaYer - 2016-08-11 03:42:52

what. existential. females. where.