If you walk down the aisles of a book shop or a library or an abandoned Blockbuster Video, you might notice that every book, comic, and film has been neatly filed away into its appropriate genre. We like to split our stories up into genres and sub-genres so we know what to expect: we can reasonably assume that there will be no aliens in a contemporary rom-com, for example, and we know that every canine character in classic children's literature is going to die tragically before the final chapter. But sometimes, we come across a book that simply refuses to fall into line with all of its genre compatriots. Here are a few of the books that break all the rules of genre, because rules were made to be broken.
After all, the "rules" of genre are not set in stone. No one has officially decreed that hard-boiled detective novels can't break the fourth wall, or that sweeping period romances can't also involve space assassins. And these books do more than simply mash two popular genres together: they force us to question the way we think about genre in the first place. Pick up one of these genre-bending books for a story that will defy all of your pre-conceived notions:
'The Blind Assassin' by Margaret Atwood
Trust Margaret Atwood to weave three distinctly different genres into one entirely engrossing novel. There's the framing device of an old woman writing her memoir, then there's the memoir itself, then the romance novel hidden inside the memoir, and then the science fiction adventure hidden inside the romance novel. It might sound dizzying, but somehow it all manages to blend together into one page-turning mystery.
'Gun, With Occasional Music' by Jonathan Lethem
Gun, With Occasional Music is sort of like if Raymond Chandler wrote about talking kangaroos. Private eye Conrad Metcalf is solving noir-style crimes in a future Oakland, where talking animals go about their usual business and the police fret over their karma levels. It's a hard-boiled mystery novel that complicates and/or explodes the hard-boiled mystery genre at every turn.
'The Bone Clocks' by David Mitchell
David Mitchell excels at unraveling genre. In The Bone Clocks, young runaway Holly Sykes finds herself at the center of a dangerous cabal of mystics. But as Holly's story unfolds, the narrative zips through time and space, crossing paths with all of Mitchell's other novels as Holly's actions reverberate across both genres and generations.
'Zone One' by Colson Whitehead
Zone One might just be the perfect deconstruction of the zombie genre. The zombie apocalypse has come and not quite gone, but humanity is starting to put itself back together. Rather than stabbing zombies and fighting for survival, Zone One is the wry, sometimes harrowing story of cleaning up the aftermath and finding a way to move forward in a post-zombie world.
'Autobiography of Red' by Anne Carson
Geryon is a young boy who is also a winged red monster. Autobiography of Red is his story of escaping his abusive brother, discovering photography, and falling in love with a drifter named Herakles. Of course, the book itself, much like its protagonist, is more than one thing at once: a novel, a poem, and an unconventional retelling of ancient mythology.
'Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World' by Haruki Murakami
Murakami is well known for his ability to take an established genre and transform it beyond all recognition. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is a post-modern, cyberpunk detective story filled with unicorn skulls and Bob Dylan. Even numbered chapters take place in one world and odd numbered in another, creating two parallel narratives that make up one singular, many-genred novel.
'If on a winter’s night a traveler' by Italo Calvino
If on a winter's night a traveler absolutely refuses to be one single genre, or even one single book. The protagonist is you (the reader), and you are trying to read Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler. But every time you try to open the dang book, it's a different novel entirely. The result is this meta-fictional adventure that spans just about every genre out there.