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A GOOD READ: If, on a winter’s night, you’re feeling weird...
There is no shortage of books that are absurd, surreal, mad, ludicrous or bizarre. Some books employ elaborate and convoluted structures, some introduce typographic tricks and effects and some books do all of the above.
While James Joyce reputedly said it took him 17 years to write Finnegans Wake and he expected people to spend 17 years reading it, not all weird books are difficult. Some are fun and some are amazing. Here are a few of each:
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is considered by some to be Haruki Murakami’s masterwork. Thirty-year-old Toru Okada loses his job, his cat goes missing and his wife leaves him. While searching for the cat, he meets a series of strange characters who insist on telling him the stories of their lives, which are filled with passion and violence. The book is a surreal blend of detective story, history lesson and satire that becomes increasingly complex and dreamlike. This highly experimental novel is uneven and sometimes confusing but it is never boring.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski became a cult sensation on the internet before its print publication in 2000. The centre of the book’s stories within stories within stories concerns a manuscript study of a documentary film about a house that is growing larger on the inside. The filmed exploration of the house’s labyrinthian hallways leads to insanity, murder and death. Danielewski matches his convoluted plot with a variety of typographical effects and the author also plays with academic conventions by including masses of footnotes — and footnotes to the footnotes — and citations of clearly imaginary reference works. Some readers have said this is the novel of the millennium while others insist that Danielewski’s celebration of his own cleverness gives them a headache.
The Raw Shark Texts (a play on “Rorschach tests”) is Steven Hall’s 2007 debut novel. Eric Sanderson is fleeing from the Ludovician, a “species of purely conceptual fish” that feed on human memory. Although the Ludovician have already devoured his memory, the “First Eric” left him a series of clues to recover his past and the name of a doctor who may be able to help him. One reviewer called the book “a fast-moving cyberpunk mashup of Jaws, Memento and sappy romance.”
The odd formal structure of Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is no barrier to enjoying Calvino’s remarkable work. The book opens with the line “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler” and odd-numbered chapters continue on to relate the adventures of you, the reader, in reading the novel. The even-numbered chapters are each a first chapter of 10 different novels in various genres and written in different styles, and each ends abruptly at a major plot climax. The odd-numbered chapters develop into a love story of international conspiracy and politics. Themes, phrases and descriptions link the different first chapters to the second-person narrative chapters. The Telegraph newspaper included If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler in its 2009 list of “100 novels everyone should read.”
The Third Policeman is Flann O’Brien’s dark comic novel of ambition, obsession, greed, love, hate, revenge, physics and bicycles; it also prominently features the observations of a scientist and philosopher named deSelby. The narrator, whose name we never learn, is killed by a bomb after taking part in a robbery turned murder. After his death, the unnamed narrator discovers his soul (named “Joe”), encounters two of the three bicycle-obsessed policemen and travels to eternity, which turns out to be just down the road. The novel was written in 1940 but was rejected by O’Brien’s publisher and not printed until a year after the author’s death in 1966.
Just ask at your local library if you are looking for more suggestions of something a little different to read.
A Good Read is a column by Tri-City librarians that is published every Wednesday. Michael DeKoven is deputy director of Port Moody Public Library.