Great books in which nothing happens

I know we spend a lot of time vexing about storylines, character development, dialogue and the rest, but have any of you read any books that you love in which nothing (or nothing much) actually happens, and yet there is something especially wonderful about them?

My first nomination is:


This, from an article about Duras, sets out her writing direction:

For Duras, certainty and a linear plot gave way to work that explored, instead, ambiguity and silences. She was, she said, exploring the “interplay of love and destruction.”

I read it years ago, don’t remember the storyline (if there was one), but recall clearly that I was completely mesmerised by it.

Yes, I love this one, too. There is, by the way, a very interesting book by Duras on the craft of writing (I think it’s tout simplement called “écrire”, it’s one of the many books I borrowed to someone and it never came back). It also sheds some light on the role of Whisky in the writing of Duras.

My No. 1 book where almost nothing happens is Thomas Mann’s “Zauberberg”. It’s a book I adore, whenever I finish reading it I feel the urge to start it all over again. I don’t know if the magic really works in a translated version, though.

Jolanth - I don’t know that book. What is it called in English?

A friend of mine says Mann’s THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN is her favourite book of all time. But I’ve never read Mann.

This might be an unfair characterization, but I felt this way about The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. For the first several hundred pages I was sure something really exciting was about to happen, and by the time I realized it wasn’t that kind of book, I was totally hooked.

Mamseter, I have to disagree with you on that. I felt quite a lot happens in the The Amazing Advertures of Kavalier and Klay - journey to Germany to try to rescue family from the Nazis, the golem, the advertures in the comic book business and much more.

Although, it is quite a contemplative book, too, in which there are stretches where little appears to happen. It’s one of my favourite contemporary novels, by the way.

“The Magic Mountain” is the english title of “Der Zauberberg” so we’re talking about the same book.

I also really like the novels and short stories by David Foster Wallace. In some of them, nothing happens at all but the writing is, at least for me, extremely inspiring.

JD: Der Zauberberg would be The Magic Mountain. And I also thought a great deal was happening in K&C. The episode with the magician and the river alone was worth the price of admission.

As to the topic – if you want to expand it to highly publicized books in which nothing worth narrating happens, I could find a few nominations. Franzen’s The Corrections comes quickly to mind.

[color=blue]oops… Jolanth already posted a translation while I was still writing this.


The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Not much plot, really, but it’s still very interesting.

Pretty much anything by the great 20th century American mainstream writers… Hemingway, Salinger, Carver et al. Not much happens on the surface (Holden Caulfield wanders around NY for a few days; Franny and Zooey hang around their parent’s apartment; a waitress serves a fat man; a girl tells her companion that the hills look like white elephants), but under the surface, they are profound. (When I think of my favourite literature, it seems to be Russian stuff from the eighteenth century, British stuff from the nineteenth, American lit from the bulk of the twentieth, then Continental and Japanese from the late twentieth and early twenty-first…)

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil.

I didn’t want it to end. Which is good, since it doesn’t (Musil died before coming close).

KB - I’d be curious as to who you think are the most interesting 21st century Japanese writers. I tried, but couldn’t finish Murukami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland, and never attempted Kobo Abe (is he Japanese?)

But, away from topic of nothing happening, but sticking with your comments about Japanese fiction, the best Japanese novel I’ve read in recent times is a crime thriller called OUT by Natsuo Kirino. It follows the fate of four co-workers at a boxed lunch factory as they deal with the aftermath of the “accidental” murder of a husband. Not only does it handle the crime thriller element brilliantly, but gives a vivid picture of an aspect of Japanese society, in particular the drudgery of these women’s lives, which is gripping and memorable.

Actually, I was thinking precisely of Haruki Murakami. :slight_smile: I love his work. I don’t know if I’d choose Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World to read first, though… Although I did like it. I didn’t think much of Kafka on the Shore. But his other works - Wild Sheep chase, Sputnik Sweetheart, Norwegian Wood, Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in particular - are brilliant. I really liked his most recent novella, After Dark, too, though it didn’t get great reviews if I recall correctly. He’s a very surreal writer, but I like him because he owes so much to 20th century US fiction (Hemingway, Carver et all) but then deals with weird subconscious realms and oddball characters in sort-of plots that are never quite explained. I suppose some may find it very frustrating, and his appeal really depends on how much you like listening to the ruminations of 30-something, somewhat emotionless outside (i.e. most of his protagonists), but I guess that just appeals to me…

Okay, so I realise I generalised by basing my whole theory about great 21st century Japanese literature on one man, but hey, I really do like Murakami’s works.


I wish people in these forums would learn to stay on topic. The way they shoot off wholly nilly, in all directions, is like observing multiple collisions of Higgs Bosuns, or a bad care of varicose veins

Back on topic: Books Where Nowt Ever Happens. Well: The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene has got to take the biscuit on that one, I mean 448 pages, where, not once, not…once…does our heroine Gracie and our Hero George manage to have it off.
For example, George is floating in space, unable to see any galaxies, stars or planets. God knows whats going through his mind. From out of this blackness floats Gracie, and like George shes wearing a space-suit, with a flashing light attached.

Now, a woman, wearing a space suit with a flashing light on…has got to be a turn on…right? Wrong! As Gracie (flashing), approaches George, is he thinking, “I wouldnt mind being in that space suit with her...Id show her a thing or threeâ€

vic-k, did the mad scientist who created you find your brain in a sewer? :wink:

KH, hiya,

er…Im not sure of that one :question: Leave it with me and I ll get back to you with it. :confused:

I find most newspapers, magazine articles, Blogs, and critically aclaimed books written now-a-days could fit in this category. A lot of eloquent filler with no thriller but you still can’t change the channel.


I asked my oldest living relative, a 93yr old auntie. All she said was` “Brain! What brain?”

Best I can do KH, sorry.

Cool! I’m glad I’m not alone. I used to have one, but when I was a kid I let my mind wander and it never came back.

I don’t miss it much, really. It was spawned under a rock, and tended to go moldy.

who needs brains, anyway Kh?

Those whove got em , dont seem to know how to use em. so whats the point

Having a witty brain is no good if the translation device and the mouthpiece is faulty.

Sometimes the hardest thing is to take a concept that seems very clear in your head and turn it into words that are tangible on paper.

To write something that is gripping and yet no direct plot exists to funnel it takes a lot of very clever word manipulation. I don’t think that I could write something that would be rivetting - it would sound more like bit of mindless drivel. (Somewhat like most blogs.)