Genuinely absurd books are hard to come by, rather than stories that are designed to be weird such as ‘Naked Lunch’ they appear relatively normal until you dig deeper. Whether they are simply bizarre or just downright confusing I have compiled a short list of books I have encountered that were so strange that they have stuck with me. And trust me, I have read some strange stuff.
‘1Q84’ by Haruki Murikami
I admit that for my first Murikami read, this was not the best choice. 3 volumes of confusion, I didn’t know what I was in for and truly I am still perplexed as to what happened. I would try to summarise but in all honesty, so much occurred that to try and condense it down would probably result in a spoiler! There are many reoccurring themes in Murikami that I find very quaint, the cats, the cooking, the moons etc. All very typical of Japanese novels yet with a supernatural twist. However, I believe that I should have gone with my gut and picked up ‘Norwegian Woods.’ ‘1Q84’ sounds like a hip science fiction version of ‘1984’ but unfortunately it is far from it. There is a cult at one point but it had no affiliations with ‘Big Brother’ rather it was brimming with sexual immorality, something again very characteristic of Murikami. Oddly enough Murikami loves to focus on the fine details in scenes no matter how uncomfortable. After reading pages of the protagonist speaking of her fetish for bald heads I felt like I was on drugs I was so engrossed in the bizarre rather of her inner monologue, much like a car crash you can’t help but watch. Only pick it up after you have read some of his other works and hopefully it won’t come as so much of a shock for you unless that was the author’s intention. If it was then props to you sir.
‘The Wasp Factory’ by Iain Banks
This novel is already pretty infamous and for good reason, it is down-right disturbing and pretty disgusting. Perfect. The novel is essentially about a psychopathic teenager living on a Scottish island as he torments and destroys those around him. This is an incredibly dark read of course, however, you can tell it was written by a science-fiction writer as it is oddly hypnotic and alien. It is not for those shy of the gritty and unpleasant nature of humans, the parts that make us recoil and especially not a read for dog-lovers (you will thank me for warning you). There is a lot of gruesome depictions of violence for a novel called ‘The Wasp Factory.’ Don’t be fooled into thinking that it is not quirky at times but this is definitely a more sinister strange than charming.
‘The Master and Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov
I have a love-hate relationship with Russian literature and this was no exception. There are talking cats, religious experiences and long talks about philosophy all wrapped up in a neat obscure package that in all honest was more akin to an adult fairy-tale than a straight-up fiction. The main premise concerns Satan visiting earth in order to discuss philosophical quandaries with members of the atheistic Soviet Union. Sounds normal enough right? Well it is about as weird as that sentence. The characters are caricatures, the events that unravel are connected to fate and are set in this world and yet not. The narrative time travels at will is toyed with in order to raise new questions. As ‘Bulgakov had to rewrite the novel from memory after he burned the draft manuscript’ I have always wondered what the original was like and if this was essentially a toned down version of the mad-genius of the manuscript beforehand.
‘The Stoker’ by Franz Kafka
It was a sunny August night in Prague and I decided what was more appropriate than to read my shiny new editions of Kafka I had just purchased. Of course he is known for enjoying absurd visuals, but rather than laying my eyes on an anthropomorphic beetle, I instead found myself reading ‘The Stoker.’ This short story starts off relatively ordinary, a young boy of 16 named Karl is on a ship to America after finding out he has impregnated the house maid. Whilst aboard he meets the Stoker of the ship who tells him he shall soon be fired because the Captain has a hatred of Romanians. The young boy decides to help the man keep his job by speaking to the German captain. When I finished this short story I was struck my one question, what had I just read? The reason this story strikes me as so bizarre is because there appears to be no reason for it to exist. It is simply recanting events by characters who you don’t develop interest in, the story has no interesting developments and overall it feels like a lost chapter in a book series, filler if you will. Yet it is stand-alone and completely pointless. There are many times when you feel you must enjoy the works of an author because of their reputation. I do enjoy some of his works and I have a feeling that once I finally get around to reading ‘The Trial’ I will appreciate Kafka far more. As for now? This was weird and weak. However, it has stuck with me and I oddly find myself remembering it with complete indifference. I would recommend you read it (it is very short) and see if you get anything out of it, god knows I tried.
‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus
The stranger is still one of my favourite books for the simple reason that it is …well simple! The straight forward nature of the text means that it is unable to be spoiled, the plot is the blurb and overall it demands an emotional reaction rather than an investment in plot. It is in essence a character study of a blank canvas. The main character is completely devoid of emotion, of personality and of motive. It causes you to project your own thoughts about the character’s actions. Let me give you the story-line so you can have an idea of what takes place in Camus’s own words: ‘I summarised The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.‘ Yes this sounds strange but that is the premise of the book! A man’s mother dies, he shows no emotion, then he kills as man and is sentences to death. At only around 110 pages there really isn’t much room for anything else but this story needed to be short to be effective. It is hard to describe what needs to be read. It is one of the most odd books I have read but also very rewarding.
What strange books have you read? Let me know below!
Side photo credit: Flickr/ ‘The Strange world of Hydra’ by Marcel Lisboa