So what exactly is a cult novel? A cult novel is one that the critics hated but the fans love, or sometimes it’s one that both readers and critics like, but a certain group of readers really, really love. Cult novels often come from the fringes, they often represent counter-cultural perspectives and they always experiment with form. As always, there are many more good ones out there, but here are seven that you must read.
No.7. Dune, Frank Herbert.
This novel might just have the most intense fans of any work of science fiction ever. In fact, Herbert was famously asked — repeatedly — if he was building up a cult, which anyone who has read any of the Dune books should know was ironic to the point of hilarity. But whether or not Herbert reigned supreme over it in a fancy hat, his novels had and still have a cult following — and by now, a popular one, too.
No.6 Fear of Flying, Erica Jong.
This book — a frank-talking, progressive bildungsroman about a young woman trying to figure out love/sex/life — is over 40 years old, still a legend, and still a subject of contention. And while it was never really not a bestseller, it still feels like a cult book — not least because of how many have held it aloft, yelling “this” for hours on end.
No.5 Ice, Anna Kavan.
A surreal end-of-the-world novel first published in 1967, before such things were all the rage, and secretly passed from apocalyptic youth to apocalyptic youth ever since.
No.4 Masters of Atlantis, Charles Portis.
Now here’s a triple-whammy: a cult novel by a decidedly cult author that is also about a cult. Doesn’t get any better than that. Portis saw a little uptick in popularity after the adaptation of True Grit hit the big screens, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not enough. This is probably the most hilarious book that you’ve never read, and it’s not even his best one.
No.3 Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs.
A trip in a book, banned all over the place for its obscenities and profanities and needle drugs, it has also been clutched to the chest of many an open-minded reader as they shouted against censorship. And hey, this cult novel has a cult film to match.
No.2 Speedboat, Renata Adler.
Renata Adler was a formidable critical and literary figure in the ‘60s and ‘70s, with the kind of obstinate, intellectual-badass reputation that delights some and faintly terrifies others. Her self-constructed fall from grace, at least with the critical world, is well known, but she is cherished more for her first novel, Speedboat, a non-linear, delicious wisp of a thing, which immediately became a cult classic among writers and lovers of experimental literature.
No.1 Neuromancer, William Gibson.
Like Pynchon, Gibson himself is a figure who inspires cultish devotion. But Neuromancer probably had — and still has — the most immediate cult appeal.
Hope you enjoyed our list 🙂
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