Which author do you consider to be most difficult to read in terms of his use of language?
Probably the only novel in my native language, that made me regularly reach for the dictionary, is Тихий Дон by Sholokhov.
In German I find Thomas Mann really challenging once he gets depictive.
Please share your thoughts on which authors you consider a challenge in terms of language skills, both in your native and your advanced foreign languages.
I agree with your choice of Thomas Mann being a challenging writer even for natives (especially in “Joseph und seine Brüder”).
In English, I suppose, James Joyce and also Henry James could both take the crown for the challenge presented in their respective descriptive modes. Among modern British writers Jeff Torrington presents his very own challenge (a subjective statement).
In French, I have given up on Jean Genet - like Jeff Torrington’s - his is a world I cannot easily understand. Curiously enough, Proust is not at all such a challenge as Genet.
I have not read widely enough in Spanish or the other languages to have come across styles I cannot cope with.
P.S. It has been a challenge to get all these challenges into just a couple of lines
I knew before I strarted reading this thread that James Joyce would be the first writer of English to be mentioned, and I was not wrong. I tried reading his Ulysses and after 50 pages gave up. I didn’t understand a thing. I’ll probably have more luck with the German translation.
I also found A Tale of Two Cities from Dickens very hard to read, but his other stuff is quite easy.
Ich fand “Das Parfüm” von Patrick Süskind ein sehr anspruchsvoll zu lesendes Buch und zwar sowohl wegen des Inhalts als auch der Sprache.
I always thought Lovecraft’s stories were a bit too purple, making it somewhat hard to read, especially if you are new to reading in general.
Ulysses is the book I’ve also given up after trying it five years ago or so. And it also makes it the only book in English I didn’t continue purely because I didn’t have enough skills to follow it. However what I’ve tried then was an audiobook - with LingQ it must be possible to fight through any text - after all that’s why we are here
Basically the following sentence made me create this topic
Die flachen Eilande, deren Boden mit Blättern, so dick wie Hände, mit riesigen Farnen, mit fettem, gequollenem und auf der stockenden, grünschattig spiegelnden Flut schwammen, wie Schüsseln groß, milchweiße Blumen; Vögel von fremder Art, hochschultrig, mit unförmigen Schnäbeln, standen auf hohen Beinen im Seichten und blickten unbeweglich zur Seite, während durch ausgedehnte Schilffelder ein klapperndes Wetzen und Rauschen ging, wie durch Heere von Geharnischten; dem Schauenden war es, als hauchte der laue, mephitische Odem dieser geilen und untauglichen Öde ihn an, die in einem ungeheuerlichen Zustande von Werden oder Vergehen zu schweben schien, zwischen den knotigen Rohrstämmen eines Bambusdickichts glaubte er einen Augenblick die phosphoreszierenden Lichter des Tigers funkeln zu sehen—und fühlte sein Herz pochen vor Entsetzen und rätselhaftem Verlangen.
Ulysses is like poetry and better read aloud or listened to. If you’re a native speaker the vocabulary shouldn’t be too challenging as long as you understand 98% of the words but the syntax is a headache.
The problem with Ulysses, for non native speakers like yourself eugrus, is that even if the vocabulary is translated word for word (difficult because some of it is in dialect and it is not easy to find the words in dictionaries), you are unlikely to have had enough exposure to English to be able to deal with the non standard sentence structures. Therefore, if you had the desire to attack Ulysses again, I think a parallel text would work better than lingq, (if you could find one), not necessarily in any of the other languages that you speak, but in modern English. Books like this exist for Shakespeare but I don’t know about James Joyce.
I think reading anything written in dialect, like Irvine Welsh’s books, is difficult for non-native English speakers and also the book ‘Everything is Illuminated’ because it relies on an advanced understanding of synonyms to be able to decode large parts of the text. ‘A clockwork orange’ is probably an epic task as well because it’s basically written in a made up vernacular.
I respect that Ulysses is a great intellectual achievement, but I don’t know if it deserves “best book ever status” that it’s been granted by some literary critics. (In fairness I’ve only been able to muscle through half of it and mostly I didn’t understand.) But is “the greatest book” the one that’s the most complex and impossible to understand? Not in my view, I suppose
I agree, I’m not a massive fan of book lists or saying this or that book is the best book ever. It’s total nonsense. We should read what we like not what other people tell us to like. Sometimes I think people claim to rate certain things because they think it makes them look smart, but really it marks them out as people unable to form their own opinions.
As for Ulysses, for me it’s enjoyable, but I like flowery prose, Greek mythology and Irish history so Ulysses is the ultimate trifecta. Plus, I’ve never tried to understand every single word of it, because I think that’s studying, not reading. I don’t mind using a dictionary out of curiosity but not out of necessity and for me I’m happy with 98% comprehension.
I honestly can’t see how Ulysses would appeal to the majority of people though, or why it should called “the greatest book” ever but I think it’s difficulty is overstated, it’s more likely boredom that kills it for people.
Oh, James Joyce. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head! Most native English speakers wouldn’t even attempt to read Ulysses. You should be proud that you have even attempted to read it. I would definitely say that if you want to experience it, get the audiobook. Of course that all depends on the reader.
By the way, the best audiobook I have encountered in English is Michael Caine’s “The Elephant to Hollywood,” as read by the author himself.