15 Best Existential Fiction Books

sunrays falling of an open book

What does it mean for a human being to exist? Do our lives matter? These are generally the issues existentialist thinkers have to address. We’ve all given life’s purpose and our futures some thought. The existentialist school of thought comprises a wide range of philosophies. In this article, we will look at 15 best existential fiction books.

Many existentialist schools of thought concepts can be challenging for some individuals to understand and test their mental capacity. While some people chuckle in the face of alleged meaninglessness, others dwell in the utter dread of a cruel world. But that’s part of the appeal.

The protagonist in existential literature, often characterized by a person existing in a tumultuous and meaningless environment, is forced to face themself and decide what purpose they have in the universe. Existentialist philosophy aims to realize our inner liberty, not to fill our lives with doom and gloom.

Well, without any further ado, let’s dive into these fantastic existential fictional books, which you will be so engrossed in that you’ll even lose track of time!

15 Greatest Existential Fiction Books to Read

Here’s a list of the above-promised list of existential fiction books of all time.

1. Notes from Underground

Notes from Underground | 15 Best Existential Fiction Books

Full Title: Notes from Underground

Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Genre: Fiction

Publishing Date: 1864


This groundbreaking book draws a connection between the fiction of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and between the self-images each era embodied. The unidentified narrator is a senior official who has boldly withdrawn into an underground existence, making him one of literature’s most extraordinary figures.

He scribbles a passionate, obsessive, self-contradictory story in total seclusion from a society that serves as a shattering critique of social utopianism and a proclamation of man’s fundamentally irrational essence.

2. The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being | 15 Best Existential Fiction Books

Full Title: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Author: Milan Kundera

Genre: Philosophical fiction

Publishing Date: 1984


The author of this novel relates the tale of a young woman who falls in love with a man who is caught between his feelings for her and his unremitting philandering, as well as the narrative of one of his mistresses and her obediently devoted partner.

This superb book intersperses physically far apart locations, insightful and lighthearted views, and a range of literary genres to establish itself as perhaps the crowning accomplishment of one of the all-time great authors.

3. Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Thus Spoke Zarathustra | 15 Best Existential Fiction Books

Full Title: Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Original: Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen)

Author: Friedrich Nietzsche

Genre: Philosophical fiction

Publishing Date: 1883


This classic Western literature is often regarded as the author’s finest effort. It features the famous debate between the German philosopher and the term God is dead, as well as his idea of Superman. In addition to outlining his Will to Power theory, the author criticizes Christian philosophy, particularly its conception of good and evil.

4. The Moviegoer

The Moviegoer | 15 Best Existential Fiction Books

Full Title: The Moviegoer

Author: Walker Percy

Genre: Psychological Fiction

Publishing Date: 1961


The Moviegoer is Binx Bolling, a young stockbroker from New Orleans who, despite yearning for a spiritual deliverance he cannot bring himself to trust in, observes the world with the dispassionate gaze of a Bourbon Street dandy.

On the night before his thirty-first birthday, he spends the time flirting with his assistants and watching movies, giving him the treasured moments missing from his everyday life.

However, on a fateful Mardi Gras, Binx sets out on a foolish mission that angers his family, puts his weak cousin Kate in peril, and sends him spinning through the commotion of New Orleans’ French Quarter.

5. The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye | 15 Best Existential Fiction Books

Full Title: The Catcher in the Rye

Author: J. D. Salinger

Genre: Young adult fiction

Publishing Date: 1951


An homage to teenage estrangement, this timeless work of coming-of-age literature captures the confused sensation of loss we experience as we grow up and the fundamental human urge for connection.

As he pinballs about New York City in search of relief from the thieves at Pencey Prep, he is banged up by prostitution and cut down by ex-girlfriends while playing bull in dump motels and roaming alone through Central Park.

In all its neon solitude and sleazy beauty, it’s a dual feeling of possibility and emptiness. The city is both beautiful and dreadful. Holden moves through it like a ghost, always thinking of Phoebe, his younger sister, who is the only one who truly understands him, and his resolve to leave the fake people behind and discover true meaning in life.

6. The Stranger

The Stranger | 15 Best Existential Fiction Books

Full Title: The Stranger

Author: Albert Camus

Genre: Crime Fiction

Publishing Date: 1942


The title character of the timeless literary masterpiece, Meursault, is an Algerian who murders someone after going to his mother’s funeral. His perception of the world, his range of emotions, and the overall follies of the period all work together to make for an engaging read. The narrative is aptly separated into two captivating pieces, both given from the viewpoint of Meursault.

In the first section, he shares his opinions before the murder, and in the second section, he takes us through his mental state following the murder. The protagonist of this gripping book experiences two distinct phases in his life: grieving for the loss of his mother and confronting his morality after executing a murder.

7. The Fall

The Fall | 15 Best Existential Fiction Books

Full Title: The Fall

Author: Tristan Bancks

Genre: Existential Fiction

Publishing Date: 1956


The soul of Jean-Baptiste Clamence is tormented. He tells his tale to a random friend in an Amsterdam bar throughout several drunken nights. A riveting, self-loathing compendium of guilt, hypocrisy, and estrangement spills forth from this prosperous former attorney and ostensibly model citizen.

This book does a fantastic job of capturing a man who has realized how meaningless his life is. However, beyond illustrating one man’s disenchantment, this book exposes the absurdity of the human situation because once gone, innocence can never be regained.

8. Demons

Demons | 15 Best Existential Fiction Books

Full Title: Demons or The Possessed or The Devils

Author: Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Genre: Political Fiction

Publishing Date: 1872


This grim classic portrays a world where the distinction between good and evil has faded. Two of the leaders of a Russian revolutionary cell are Pyotr Verkhovensky and Nikolai Stavrogin. They want to destabilize society, overthrow the Tsar, and take control of themselves. Together, they provide training for jihadists who will kill themselves if necessary to further their cause.

Will their recruits be ready to murder a group member to hide their tracks when it appears that their oddball organization is about to be discovered?

9. Sophie’s World

Sophie's World | 15 Best Existential Fiction Books

Full Title: Sophie’s World

Author: Jostein Gaarder

Genre: Philosophical fiction

Publishing Date: 1991


When Sophie Amundsen, 14, gets home from school one day, she discovers two notes with the same question written on them: Who are you? And From where did the planet originate? From that captivating start, Sophie develops an obsession with inquiries that lead her well beyond the boundaries of her knowledge of her Norwegian community.

As a result of getting letters signed by another girl, she enrolls in a sort of distance course with the enigmatic philosopher, spanning the works of Socrates to Sartre. And who is Hilde? And why does her mail continue to arrive? The philosophy Sophie is studying must be applied to solve this puzzle, but Sophie had no idea how complex the solution would be.

10. Cat’s Cradle

Cat's Cradle

Full Title: Cat’s Cradle

Author: Kurt Vonnegut

Genre: Fiction

Publishing Date: 1999


With a little person as the main character, a calypso singer’s entire, original theology, and a view of the future that is both darkly fatalistic and hysterically amusing, it is an apocalyptic story about the ultimate fate of this planet. One of the original fathers of the atomic bomb, Dr. Felix Hoenikker, has left the world with a devastating legacy as he created ice-nine, a deadly toxin that has the power to freeze the entire world.

Hoenikker’s three eccentric children, a psychotic Caribbean tyrant, and madness are all brought into the picture due to the quest for its location.

11. The Trial

The Trial

Full Title: The Trial

Author: Franz Kafka

Genre: Philosophical fiction

Publishing Date: 1925


This novel takes the reader on a terrifying psychological journey through the life of Joseph K, a regular man who awakes one day to discover that he has been charged with a crime that he did not commit and whose details have never been made known to him. He is released after being arrested but must return to court frequently, which is annoying because nothing ever gets addressed.

His personal life, including his profession at a bank and his relationships with his landlady and a young woman who lives next door, becomes more erratic as he becomes more unsure of his fate. Joseph tries to take charge, but his efforts only serve to hasten his painful downhill slide.

12. Fight Club

Fight Club

Full Title: Fight Club

Author: Chuck Palahniuk

Genre: Science fiction

Publishing Date: 1996


When the alienated narrator of the book becomes infatuated with Tyler Durden, a mysterious young guy who hosts covert after-hours boxing contests in bar basements, he quits his menial job. Two men fight there for whatever long it takes. This brilliantly creative work reveals the horror at the heart of our contemporary civilization.

13. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Full Title: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Author: Philip K. Dick

Genre: Science fiction

Publishing Date: 1968


Millions of people have died in the World War by 2021, wiping out entire species and exiling humanity. Those who are left crave any living thing, and for those who cannot buy one, businesses have created amazingly lifelike replicas, such as horses, birds, cats, and sheep. They have even created people. Androids that are sufficiently advanced and cannot be distinguished from real men or women are given to immigrants to Mars.

The government forbids these synthetic beings from visiting Earth out of concern about the damage they might cause. Unauthorized androids are living covertly among humans after being forced to hide. Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter with official approval, is hired to track down and capture rogue androids. However, when attacked, androids strike back violently and fatally.

14. Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

Full Title: Infinite Jest

Author: David Foster Wallace

Genre:  Literary fiction

Publishing Date: 1996


This book explores fundamental questions about what enjoyment is and why it has become so dominant in our lives, how our desire for amusement impacts our need to relate to other people, and what the delights we choose say about who we are. It is set in an addicts’ halfway house and a tennis academy and features the most affectionately screwed-up family to appear in recent fiction.

15. Lila


Full Title: Lila

Author: Marilynne Robinson

Genre: Fiction

Publishing Date: 2014


After years of wandering the countryside, Lila has no place to stay out of the rain and enters a small-town church in Iowa. There, she sparks a relationship and starts a discussion that will change the course of her life. She marries John Ames, a pastor, and starts a new life while attempting to make meaning of the one that came before her newfound security.

Final Words

Existentialism, by definition, means a philosophical system or method that strongly emphasizes the presence of the unique individual. But in my view, it is more than just a philosophical approach.

One needs to be aware of the truth about a person’s existence. And after going through these books, I think one should consider this approach more seriously. So, I would highly recommend you to read some, if not all, of these books.

If you liked this reading list, do look at other reading lists too:

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Are Existential Novels?

Such novels that are typically characterized by a writer who exists in a chaotic and seemingly meaningless environment that forces the protagonist to confront his/herself and determine his/her purpose in the world.

2. Who Are Some of The Famous Existentialists?

Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Karl Jaspers, Paul Tillich, etc. are some of the famous existentialists.

3. What Genre is Existentialism?

Fiction and scholar works which can either be written in form of poem, plays, novels and generally concerning the life, nature, and human existence.

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