What is metafiction, exactly? Well, to put it simply, it's when a work of fiction exposes itself to be a work of fiction. This might sound silly but—if you're reading a book, and it's about a person reading a book, or a book about a writer writing a book—that's metafiction! Over and over again, metafiction reminds the reader that what they're reading isn't true and asks questions about how the reader is relating to the fiction they're reading. It might sound complicated, and it is in some ways, but it's a great to pick up one of these books and experience this completely different approach to fiction. Here are five metafiction books that we absolutely love.
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse Five is one of the classics of metafiction. If you haven't read it, then you're missing out on a great satirical novel, one that's generally accepted to be among the best of our time. Billy Pilgrim is captured by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge and placed in a slaughterhouse underground, along with other prisoners in Dresden, Germany. Then things get crazy. The book isn't told in any sort of linear format—Billy's kidnapped by aliens and travels back and forth through time. As a brilliant work of metafiction, Vonnegut blurs the line between reality and fiction, as well as redefines history in a fictional way.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The Historian is a book that you either love or you hate, nothing in between. As you can imagine by its inclusion on this list, we absolutely love it. It's layered, rich, and deliciously complex, and follows the story of a woman who finds some old letters in her father's library. They contain some fantastical things that she can't possibly believe, but at the same time, they fill in the holes of her past and help her understand her mother's disappearance. But these letters reference Vlad the Impaler and Dracula, and there's no way they can be real... right?? The Historian has metafiction roots because, at its core, it's a book about a reader reading a book.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
There's a good chance you probably haven't read William Goldman's metafictional classic, but perhaps you've seen the movie. You know, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Even if you haven't seen it, you've probably heard people around you quoting it, and for good reason—it's awesome. The structure of the story is a man reading a fictional book called The Princess Bride. Oh, the metafiction!
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Another dark and twisted novel, but this time set in the city of Barcelona, The Shadow of the Wind is a book for readers. When Daniel is a child, his father takes him to a place called "The Cemetery of Forgotten Books." After all, Daniel's father is a rare book seller and collector, and he not only appreciates the written word, he has a reverence for it. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books is not the place where books go to die, but where books that have been all but forgotten go to rest until a new reader discovers them. Daniel is allowed to choose one book, and the title of the one he picks? You guessed it, metafiction lovers. It's The Shadow of the Wind!
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell are two magicians who make a splash in England in the early 1800s. They join the war effort against Napoleon, using their magic to help their side, but Jonathan Strange proves to be... well... strange. His affinity with darker magic makes him a danger to himself and those around him and, as he pursues it further and further, he jeopardizes everything they are fighting for. While it may not be initially clear why this is metafiction (besides the changing of history aspect), Clarke populates the novel with footnotes that actually provide commentary on the story.
What metafiction books do you love?