Books have always been a reflection of society — The flip side of the coin where you can see what people are capable of if they let their deepest, darkest desires win. A great way to see these depictions is through fiction, specifically transgressive fiction. But what is transgressive fiction?
Transgressive fiction is gaining momentum for its ability to spark controversial discussions and taboo topics. It has been a part of the literary legacy since the 18th century. The first transgressive novel was written by Marquis de Sade, who used his provocative writing style, later becoming a literary vessel questioning the status quo and challenging social norms. Over time, this genre evolved into a more complex and thought-provoking style with themes such as crime, mental illness, addictions, and gender identity.
Here are some of the best transgressive novels that will keep you hooked and make you question your beliefs!
What Is Transgressive Fiction?
It is a boundary-pushing and provocative literary format that delves into raw, controversial, and often uncomfortable aspects of human nature. It presents characters who feel confined in societal norms and find liberation in unruly or unusual ways. It is about characters who break free from conformity in illicit ways.
Unlike the conventional ways of storytelling, it uses ambiguity, shock, and taboo actions to help the reader empathize with both the right and wrong sides. Unlike traditional fiction that utilizes the same old concept of “Good always wins,” which leaves you in awe of the hero, transgressive fiction also makes us sympathize with the opposite side.
It takes you out of your comfort zone; instead of reading about the sparkle and shine, it asks you real questions about things that are generally considered disturbing or uncomfortable. You will often find the characters of such books to be outright unethical or immoral.
What Are the Key Characteristics of Transgressive Fiction?
The No-Go Subjects
Fiction authors often struggle to express their opinions on sensitive subjects such as crime, violence, abuse, addiction, mental health, or political propaganda. However, some writers use transgressive fiction to voice their opinions on such subjects. These novels often go into graphic details while describing the intricacies of the topics; therefore, they are only suitable for adult readers.
The Protagonist Is an Anti-Hero
There is no Mr. Right who does everything justly; the world of transgressive fiction is gruesome, and the protagonist has to get their hands dirty to find a way to conclude their story. Therefore, there is no good or bad in transgressive novels; characters have many layers. Some show their good side, while others dabble in darkness. Some can be downright unlikeable at the start, but as you read through the pages, you understand the reason behind their actions and how they had to rebel against societal norms to save themselves.
Challenges Your Ethical Boundaries
As you start growing fond of the transgressive character, you will feel your moral graph blurring the lines between good and evil. You will agree with the motivations behind a character’s actions and aspirations.
Transgressive fiction employs unconventional narratives to express a different perspective. Unlike the world-building done in adult fiction and children’s genre, the stories in this genre are dark, brutal, and honest. These bizarre narratives include fragmented storytelling, unreliable reports, and nonlinear timelines.
These novels usually critique societal norms and unrealistic standards set by the people. The plots are twisted, and the main characters strive to break free from the bonds of conformity.
Here Are the Top 8 Transgressive Fiction Novels:
Now that you know what is transgressive fiction, let’s discuss the eight must-read books of this genre.
This controversial novel by Bret Easton Ellis follows the story of Patrick Bateman. Although he looks like a regular investment banker on the surface, he is hiding something heinous behind his prim and proper mask. American Psycho is anything but decent; the graphic descriptions of brutal violence challenge societal norms and help readers ask the real questions.
What if I told you the Brad Pitt feature was based on a novel? Chuck Palahniuk wrote this novel inspired by his camping trip, from which he returned to work all bruised, and no one dared to ask him what went down on the trip. Fight Club follows the story of an insomniac narrator who forms an underground fight club to rebel against the tedious society.
This book by J. G. Ballard has the most unsettling yet thought-provoking narrative on death, sexuality, violence, and technology. It follows the story of a group of car crashers who fetishize destruction and violence. Inspired by celebrity car crashes, this book explores the eroticism of violence.
In another transgressive fiction by Chuck Palahniuk, he gives a problematic representation of body and gender integrity with the story of a disfigured fashion model. It explores topics of self-discovery, drugs, and twisted relationships.
We have another entry by Chuck Palahniuk, but this one is a collection of short stories narrated by a main character who does everything to join these stories to the main narrative. It follows the story of a group of aspiring writers as they are lured into a writer’s retreat only to find themselves trapped and facing increasingly brutal challenges.
Cormac McCarthy used violence and exploration of human nature as the central theme of this book. Blood Meridian follows the story of a runaway teenager, “the kid,” in South America as he joins the gang of raiders or looters who have unleashed their wrath on the desert land.
Less than Zero
Another entry by Bret Easton Ellis explores the lives of disaffected and affluent youth in Los Angeles. The protagonist, Clay, is returning to his hometown, Los Angeles, from his winter break. Although not disclosed explicitly, Clay seems to be associated with a wealthy family, and his friends look the same. This book highlights nihilism, drug abuse, and casual cruelty.
The Wasp Factory
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks is a highly controversial story that revolves around the life of a troubled teenager named Frank and his inhumane rituals of killing animals and experimenting with their bodies to predict the future. Although it was an ominous take on the transgressive genre, this novel also addresses other themes, such as psychological trauma and gender identity.
Transgressive Fiction Is Not for the Faint of Heart
If you hate gore, graphic details, and violence, this genre is not for you. Transgressive fiction confronts the uncomfortable and readers’ boundaries of acceptability. Some excerpts will make you question your morality, and others will make you want to punch the protagonist in the face. The novels mentioned above are just a glimpse into the darker, more explicit world of transgressive fiction. It serves as a mirror to see the flip side of human nature.
If you are looking for a light-hearted book with a hint of transgressive fiction, read Ted’s Tales by Ted Delgrosso. A collection of short stories with subtle hints of transgression, it is a storybook for adults that contains stories from contemporary fiction and sci-fi.