Outlandish Adventure

If you like improbable, oft-times outrageous adventures involving quick-witted, roguish, or eccentric characters, you may enjoy these picaresque novels. Examples of classic picaresque literature are Tom Jones, Candide, and Don Quixote. All of these titles are located in the Adult Fiction section of the Library unless otherwise noted.


Bellow, Saul. The Adventures of Augie March. 1953.
    Also available: CD
This “good time Charlie” has adventures, vulgar and tender, in his explorations of poverty and privilege in the 1920’s and 30’s. A Chicago man, Augie rides the rails to Mexico, is shipwrecked at sea, and more. At the time of publication in 1953, critics hailed this book as The Great American Novel..
Carey, Peter. Illywhacker. 1985.
An inventive tale of 100 years in the life of a charlatan vagabond, set in Australia. Narrated by the 139 year old protagonist.
Channer, Colin. The Girl with the Golden Shoes. 2007.
A young Caribbean islander, exiled from her village, journeys alone, outwitting many human incarnations of evil.
Charyn, Jerome. Johnny One-Eye. 2008.
Spies, harlots and Founding Fathers in a tawdry tale of the American Revolution.
Cheever, John. The Wapshot Chronicle. 1957.
Cheever won the 1958 National Book Award for his funny and tragic tale of the eccentric Wapshot family of Massachusetts.
Coe, Jonathan. The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim. 2010.
     Also available: CD
70 friends on Facebook but no one to talk to, Maxwell falls in love with his GPS as he travels the English countryside selling toothbrushes.
Doster, S.M.G. Lord Baltimore. 2002.
Young Ensworth blunders through adventures involving an escaped prisoner, a ghost, a witch doctor and more, with his protector, Lord Baltimore. This novel pays homage to the classics, such as Don Quixote and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Doyle, Roddy. A Star Called Henry. 1999.
     Also available: CD
A street kid from the age of five, Henry becomes a legend in the Irish Citizens Army in this cinematic novel of 20th century Irish history. In the sequel, Oh, Play That Thing, Henry goes to America and has an odd assortment of adventures.
Fraser, George MacDonald. Flashman at the Charge. 1973.
In the fourth book of this popular series, soldier lothario Harry Flashman is a Victorian era rogue par excellence whose unlikely escapades throughout the British Empire are, simply, a hoot. Meticulous and historically accurate, too.
Gilling, Tom. The Adventures of Miles and Isabel. 2001.
In turn of the century Australia, Miles and Isabel’s lives are filled with quirky acquaintances, strange synchronicities, and pursuits involving levitation and flying.
Giraldi, William. Busy Monsters. 2011.
When his fiancée deserts him to hunt a giant squid, Charlie is driven to prove his manhood by hunting monsters, mythic and real.
Hasek, Juroslav. The Good Soldier: Schweik. 1930.
A World War I novel of black humor, idiotic, cheerful Schweik, a dog-catcher, re-enrolls in the army, encountering ridiculous red tape, as well as many other absurd situations from which he must extricate himself.
Helprin, Mark. Freddy and Fredericka. 2005.
     Also available: CD
A bumbling Prince of Wales and his empty-headed wife are banished to a strange land: the United States. Parachuting into New Jersey, they get involved in a presidential campaign, art theft, and fake dentistry in this hilarious Monty Python meets Mark Twain novel.
Lynch, Scott. The Lies of Locke Lamora. 2006. (Adult Science Fiction LYN).
A genre-bending tragicomic fantasy that will appeal to crime fiction readers, underworld leader Lamora becomes a pawn between a crime boss and the ruthless Gray King.
Norfolk, Lawrence. The Pope’s Rhinoceros. 1996.
Two expendable men are sent to Africa in 1515 to capture a rhinoceros for the Pope, in a vast plot that includes pilgrims and prostitutes, and the two intemperate empires of Portugal and Rome.
Ozick, Cynthia. The Puttermesser Papers. 1997.
Surreal episodes in the life and afterlife of a golem-conjuring lawyer who, among other things, attempts to turn New York City into a paradise.
Portis, Charles. The Dog of the South. 1979.
On a futile quest for heroic vengeance, Ray and Reo encounter grifters, hippies, and tropical storms.
Rechy, John. The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens. 2003.
A guitar-strumming small town boy goes to Hollywood, where he comes up against a variety of con artists in this Tom Jones style tall tale.
Reid, Van. Cordelia Underwood, or The Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League. 1998.
Set in the late 1800’s, Cordelia’s journey involves buried treasure, an explorer and his valet, and a whole host of utterly zany characters from the woods and towns of Maine.
Robbins, Tom. Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. 2000.
CIA agent Switters travels via wheelchair (suffering a curse that disallows touching foot to ground) from Peru to Syria to the Vatican in an outlandish, lascivious romp.
Silverstein, Jake. Nothing Happened and Then It Did. 2010.
In chapters alternating fact and fiction, the picaresque adventures of a young journalist in the southwest and Mexico.
Smith, Zadie. The Autograph Man. 2002.
A British/Chinese/Jewish autograph collector’s pursuit of a reclusive actress takes him to New York City on an entertaining and mystical journey.
Soares, Jo. Twelve Fingers: Biography of an Anarchist. 2001.
Trained as an assassin, Dmitri Korozec bungles every assignment by falling overboard, getting lost or slipping on banana peels. Translated from the Portugese.
Vance, Jack. Ports of Call. 1998. (Adult Science Fiction VAN).
Myron lucklessly becomes captain of a spaceship and is marooned on a planet of pirates and seductresses in this swashbuckling, tongue-in-cheek intergalactic spree.