Novels for a Murakami and Mieville fan?
August 2, 2008 9:38 PM   Subscribe

NovelFilter: Hive mind, I have come to the shocking realization that my to-read queue is empty. I really enjoy the surreal side of Murakami (Hard-Boiled Wonderland, Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, etc.), and I've recently been remembering the absolutely wonderful creations in Perdido Street Station. Help me find new novels that will send my mind to weird and fantastic places!

I suppose Perdido Street and Wind-Up Bird are about as different on the surface as you can get, but either way, it's all about giving me a sense of wonder. They're both so strange, surreal, bizarre, and inventive in the design of their worlds, even if some of those worlds are entirely mental. Give me something curious, something new, a world that's just a little (or more than a little) twisted. Fantasy, magical realism, the just plain weird, I'm not genre-picky.

It's really hard to communicate what I'm looking for, but I hope that anyone who's read all of the above will have some idea of what I mean and can give me a hand here.
posted by DoubleMark to Media & Arts (46 answers total) 108 users marked this as a favorite
Try The Year of our War by Steph Swainston. It involves a surreal world and has similarities to China Mieville.
posted by elephantday at 9:43 PM on August 2, 2008

I have always like Steven Millhauser for the fantastical yet almost-real worlds he creates in his novels and short stories. I'd suggest Martin Dressler or The Knife Thrower. I found some of his other books to be a little too allegorical to be really as wonderful as those.
posted by jessamyn at 9:43 PM on August 2, 2008

Anything by Jose Saramago.
posted by SansPoint at 9:48 PM on August 2, 2008

This series is not anywhere as literary or as deep and murky as Murakami and Mieville, but the Nightside books (featuring John Taylor) by Simon R. Green are entertaining and pretty twisted and imaginative. However, compared to Murakami and Mieville, they are light, super quick reads.
posted by gt2 at 9:56 PM on August 2, 2008

Response by poster: I am by no means opposed to light/quick reads, mind, especially if they satisfy the entertaining/imaginative/twisted trinity. Keep it coming, hive mind, I knew I could count on you!
posted by DoubleMark at 10:05 PM on August 2, 2008

You want Ian McDonald, specifically Desolation Road and Out on Blue Six. Magical realist SF.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:14 PM on August 2, 2008

If you enjoy having your ideas about what's normal jerked around, try Geek Love.
posted by flabdablet at 10:22 PM on August 2, 2008

Ever read Perfume? I just picked it up recently and was totally transfixed, even having already seen the movie a year or two ago. The language and story together are just amazing -- it's been a long time since I enjoyed a novel so much.
posted by scody at 10:38 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you read Cloud Atlas? It's both weird and worthwhile. Satsifies the Murakami side of my taste (though very different in many ways).
posted by salvia at 10:38 PM on August 2, 2008

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is one of my favorite books.

You know what I'd read (assuming you haven't already)?

David Foster Wallace' Infinite Jest. It. Is. Awesome.
posted by Auden at 10:38 PM on August 2, 2008

One of my all time favorites in the genre of "just a bit too strange to have happened in this world" would have to be Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Chronicle of a Death Fortold. Really great little novella about love, revenge and writing in Colombia.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 10:59 PM on August 2, 2008

Check out Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem.
posted by shinybeast at 10:59 PM on August 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Everything by Jonathan Carroll. He has a website/blog here that's worth reading and should give you a sense of what he's about.
posted by xchmp at 11:09 PM on August 2, 2008

I haven't read Perdido Street, but I have read all the Murakami, and if you like those, I think you would really love Charles Burns' graphic novel "Black Hole". Very intense, completely surreal, and really takes you out of the day to day world the way Murakami does. Highly recommended.
posted by extrabox at 11:18 PM on August 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

If you liked Perdido Street Station, wou might enjoy Scar Night by Alan Campbell, as well as the sequel, which I don't know much about.
posted by Caduceus at 11:23 PM on August 2, 2008

Sounds like you should be reading Borges. In particular, his short story collection Labyrinths is exactly what it sounds like you are looking for (and everyone should read Borges anyway, just on principle).
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 11:45 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

DoubleMark: You will like Cloud Atlas. Perfume and Geek Love I think you'd enjoy, but I don't think they will grab you from the same perspective as the things mentioned in the post here. A long time ago I recommended Out: A Novel to you. It has all the weird-Japan, it's dark, and it's a fast read. Hayden has a copy. On the more subtle end of something's-different-with-this-place, you might enjoy The Years of Rice and Salt. Also, don't forget about Jasper Fforde, who, iirc, has a new book out now/soon.

I have a hard time seeing you getting into the more "classical" Borges or Marquez or Saramago. Saramago, especially, has a distinct writing style that, though it would be great for feeding a wide variety of snarky comments and possibly hilarious speeches mimicking his writing style, will drive you batshitinsane when reading.

Love from Japan, Smoktard's human.
posted by whatzit at 12:13 AM on August 3, 2008

Seconding Garcia Marquez and Borges, and you might complement these with Salman Rushdie's Midnights's Children, a thick box of magic realism goodness guaranteed to your mind to new and unusual realms.
posted by Gordion Knott at 3:00 AM on August 3, 2008


posted by paultopia at 3:21 AM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Julio Cortazar, beginning with Blow Up and Other Stories. He is a brilliant magical realist.
posted by prefpara at 4:43 AM on August 3, 2008

Oh yeah, that could be a good one, Cortazar.
posted by whatzit at 4:54 AM on August 3, 2008

Thirding Cloud Atlas. Murakami is one of my favorite writers - Wind-Up Bird is by far my favorite book of all time and I would say that Cloud Atlas is definitely in the top 5, perhaps at #3. (My second favorite is Visions of Cody by Kerouac.)

There are two books titled "Cloud Atlas." There's this one and another one (that I read because a friend bought it looking for the first one and then realized her mistake and gave it to me because I was looking for new fiction, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't mind-blowing) and the one being referred to here is by David Mitchell.

I would also recommend Ghostwritten by Mitchell as well, though it's admittedly not as mind-blowingly fantastic as Cloud Atlas.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:45 AM on August 3, 2008

George Saunders' CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Adam Johnson's Emporium are not novels, but otherwise are exactly what you are looking for. Like the best of Murakami, both feature worlds that are just a bit twisted, but not full-fledged magical realism. I can't recommend them highly enough, especially the Saunders. And, as a bonus, for 95 cents you can hear Saunders' short story "The 400 Pound CEO" on This American Life here.
posted by googly at 6:56 AM on August 3, 2008

Tim Powers.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:42 AM on August 3, 2008

You might try Diaspora or Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan. These are hard science fiction, and their worlds could plausibly exist, but they are definitely surreal.
posted by Coventry at 7:46 AM on August 3, 2008

Someone mentioned Steph Swainston. She is very much akin to China Mieville and all 4 of here books are very good.

I've like Stephen Hunt's Jackelian books.

Also I assume you've read Mieville's other Bas-Lag books?

I also adore Scott Bakker's books starting with The Darkness That Comes Before.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 9:07 AM on August 3, 2008

Have you read Time's Arrow? It goes backwards, through time, to the extent that some of the dialog is phonetically backwards too. But it's not just a stunt novel. It's good.
posted by Ms. Saint at 9:24 AM on August 3, 2008

Another vote for Jonathan Carroll, especially his earlier books. I'd recommend starting with Sleeping in Flame.

Borges, as people have recommended. Cloud Atlas is great. I thought Perfume was atrocious and don't understand the love for it; I don't think it's the same kind of style at all, either.

I always put Kate Atkinson's Human Croquet in the same grouping, though I might be the only person in the world who does so.
posted by jeather at 9:25 AM on August 3, 2008

Salman Rushdie - Midnights Children
Neil Gaiman
Angela Carter - Nights at the Circus
Phillip Pullman - His Dark Materials
Isabelle Allende
Alejo Carpentier - The Kingdom of this World
Jeanette Winterson - The Passion

Go team magical real, I totally did my thesis on this lovely genre.
posted by Neonshock at 9:40 AM on August 3, 2008

Nicholas Christopher
posted by zepheria at 10:28 AM on August 3, 2008

Yes, Neil Gaiman, Angela Carter and Tim Powers!

Yet another vote for Carroll, try Land of Laughs.

Also, *maybe*, The Art of Arrow Cutting by Stephen Dedman, Anonymous Rex, by Eric Garcia, The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick, Watchmen (graphic novel), the Gormenghast trilogy, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabakov???
posted by gudrun at 10:37 AM on August 3, 2008

.Boris Vian's Foam of the Daze and Heartsnatcher.
.Zoran Zivkovic. Hidden Camera deals with a guy who realizes someone is secretly filming him. It reminds me of Murakami, particularly A Wild Sheep Chase.
.Raymond Queneau or Georges Perec, maybe
.Lulu Incognito by Raymond Kennedy was a twisted little read about a hapless girl who falls into bizarro forgotten decadence world. Vintage Contemporaries, who published it, have a handful of twisted contemporary titles, usually sharply written with a sexual edge. The All-Girl Football Team is another (it feels like renewed Southern gothic with its little old town with big old stories drunken feel and unconventional sexuality), and there's one whose name eludes me that was about this young couple who travel around living in people's abandoned homes like criminals.
.Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey isn't really fantastical, but the emotion and the story feel pretty special and the style is quite epic. I love it.
.Similarly, Jose Saramago (who recently won the Nobel) often writes beautiful prose seemingly based on a bizarre "What if" premise. Obvious example is Blindness, where going blind inexplicably becomes an epidemic with tragic results, but The Double (met with mixed reviews, admittedly) has a paranoid premise similar to the Zivkovic book.
.Emily Prager's A Visit From The Footbinder. Particularly the story "The Lincoln-Pruitt Anti-Rape Device," which is about an all-female attack team in Vietnam on a mission called "Operation Foxy Fire." Surreal, biting stuff, no really. Also Clea and Zeus Divorce, which felt a little bit like Philip K. Dick's dissection of pop culture hyper-reality with a girlier touch. Diane Williams and Deborah Levy also write strange feminist stories that have a mysterious or bizarre element to them.
.Danil Kharms is pretty weird, but maybe in too mundane a way for you. Ditto Robert Walser, Peter Handke, and Thomas Bernhard.
.Ismail Kadare's The Pyramid and The Three-Arched Bridge. Both political allegory, but the descriptions are eye-openingly surreal at times.
.Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais. My favorite over-the-top classic, full of characters literally larger than life, and bawdier than any boring Chaucer.
.The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is crazy and wonderful. The literary equivalent of going to a circus performed in hell.
.Aimee Bender's fiction is like friendly American magical realism. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt and An Invisible Sign of My Own are both entertaining, and when they get sad or deep it's in the lightest way. The former, a collection of fantastical short stories, reminds me in tone of Murakami.
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon is a whirlwind bizarre conspiracy chase, and fun (if you're weird like me, I guess). Die-hard Pynchon fans prefer Gravity's Rainbow of course, which feels fantastical in parts but is more just a super-gussied-up war-and-trauma tale.
.The Frog by John Hawkes is a pretty bizarre Oedipal tale from a writer who later worked to achieve literature with zero plot.
.Salvador Plascencia's The People of Paper is a touching, funny, bizarrely formated love story, similar in form to Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves. Aimee Bender was one of his mentors in fiction writing workshops, as I recall.
.Katherine Dunn's Geek Love. Kathy Acker.
.Sophie's World and The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaardner. Sophie's World feels like a children's literature mystery as the plot unfolds, but it's wrapped around, um, the entire history of modern philosophy. I thought it was a lot of fun.
.Smilia's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg
.Okay, I'm running out of steam and have to go now. But quickly: Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Don DeLillo, Neal Stephenson, Robert Anton Wilson-type geek stuff might also do the trick. Or at least get you paranoid.
.There's a new book called Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen which might be for you. It's supposed to be pretty good and the premise is about a man who one day decides for no concrete reason his wife must be an imposter.

For general weirdness that might otherwise be hard to find, I suggest following the releases at NYRB and the Dalkey Archive. Obviously not all the titles even remotely fit what you're looking for, but they're both excellent sources of otherwise forgotten and often strange literature.
posted by ifjuly at 11:50 AM on August 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

Prenial recommendation: You should check out the works of Orhan Pamuk.

You may also like Ted Chiang,.

The Year of our War by Steph Swainston.

Good recommendation given the China Melville but it's probably worth mentioning that it's the start of some trilogy type thing (one that I wasn't quite intrigued enough to follow).

Neil Gaiman is a good recommendation. You may also like some of the odder works of Richard Metheson and, yes, Steven King.
posted by Artw at 2:25 PM on August 3, 2008

Some of Kim Newmans work may be worth your while as well.
posted by Artw at 2:26 PM on August 3, 2008

Seconding Lethem and George Saunders. Cyberiad, from Stanislaw Lem maybe.
posted by 31d1 at 2:58 PM on August 3, 2008

And yes, Borges, Borges, Borges.
posted by 31d1 at 3:02 PM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Walter Jon Williams' Metropolitan and its sequel, City On Fire have captured my imagination with his imagined "world city" and plasm, the substance that fuels it and its citizens. The characters are unforgettable, as well.
posted by Lynsey at 3:41 PM on August 3, 2008

I second scody's recommendation of Perfume. I've read both Murakami (Kafka on the Shore) and Mieville (Perdido). Perfume has a similar feel.

Borges is superb, unparalleled. But he's different, more intellectual, spinning out amazing webs from a central concept like John Donne does in poetry.
posted by mono blanco at 12:23 AM on August 4, 2008

For dense, bind-bending fantasy/Sci-Fi, try the series "The Book of the New Sun" by Gene Wolfe. I've just started reading it again, it's wonderful - more Mieville than Murakami, I suppose, but worth a shot.

"Solaris" by Stanislaw Lem is one of the best science fictions ever. It's difficult to describe, but I think it's what you're looking for - it's entertaining in the same way Mieville and Murakami are, mind-bending maybe is the cliche phrase... anyway, read it. It's amazing.
posted by Rinku at 6:39 AM on August 4, 2008

Excuse me. Bind-bending? I haven't woken up yet.
posted by Rinku at 6:39 AM on August 4, 2008

On the more literary/philosophical/Murakami side you might enjoy:
The Master and Margarita: involves the devil and Pontious Pilate and talking cat, takes place in Russia
Cosmicomics: involves atoms, mollusks, harvesting milk from the moon, dinosaurs, formatiom of the universe, unrequited love
One Hundred Years of Solitude: magical realism at its best
Chimara: metafiction at its best
Geek Love: involves the circus
Vonnegut: all good

other "inventive" writers you might enjoy, but I can't fully endorse (because their writing sucks) are:
Gaiman, Phillip K. Dick, Neal Stephenson, Asimov
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 8:47 AM on August 4, 2008

I'm surprised no one's mentioned Italo Calvino. You can read his "Invisible Cities" in an afternoon, and you'll never forget it.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 1:50 PM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem
posted by ian1977 at 2:50 PM on August 4, 2008

Seconding Italo Calvino, in particular Cosmicomics, Invisible Cities, and If on a winter's night a traveler. The Baron in the Trees, The Nonexistent Knight and The Cloven Viscount are very good as well. Calvino is unique in his ability to write about the fantastic in a very precise way.

Borges was obviously a big influence on Calvino, but I find Borges to be hit or miss sometimes. The Aleph is an amazing story, though.
posted by speicus at 4:10 AM on August 8, 2008

The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts (Paperback)
by Louis de Bernières

is the start of a tragicomedy trilogy.
posted by mearls at 4:26 PM on June 27, 2009

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