Flex those literary muscles and expand your reading horizons by picking up a book that you might normally shy away from. That’s the theme of our reading workouts, where we challenge you to step outside your reading comfort zone.
And where better to start with experimental fiction? Pushing the boundaries of form in the most of-the-wall ways, here are six books that prove the limits of the novel are limitless.
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
(Galley Beggar Press, 9781913111984, p/b, £13.99)
If you’ve got time in your evenings to spare this gem among literary gems is not to be missed. A dazzling example of experimental fiction, Ducks, Newburyport delivers a scorching indictment of America in the form of a 1,000 page, one sentence stream of consciousness, from the exhausted mind of one Ohio housewife. But don’t let the word count intimidate you, this is a rollicking wonder of a book and every page demands direct consumption.
A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa
(Tramp Press, 9781916434264, p/b, £12.99)
Some books stay with you well after you’ve closed the cover, A Ghost in the Throat is that kind of book. A remarkable combination of essay and autofiction, it depicts the author’s own obsession with a poem by a 1700s Irish noblewoman, mourning the death of her husband in a tragic keen. Described by the author as ‘a female text’, Doireann, herself an Irish poet and a mother, finds powerful kinship with a woman barely recorded by history, except in the letters of men. Written in spellbinding, filigreed prose, A Ghost in the Throat is a book to transport and haunt you with its beautiful, yet chilling story.
Self Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye, trans. by Jordan Stump (Influx Press, 9781910312896, p/b, £7.99)
Some trips outside your comfort zone are best done in small doses. But whether you’re new to experimental fic or a practiced pro, this slim tome is a read for a weekend. Translated from the original French, this award-winning subversion of memoir reads like a dream. Exploring the narrator’s obsession with mysterious green women, real or imagined, that she encounters across the expansive Garonne River. Delving into identity, memory, paranoia, and feminine power this is another subversive book to lose yourself in.
Through a Looking Glass Darkly by Jake Fior
(Alice Through the Looking Glass, 9781527256903, h/b, £19.95)
How can you bring a fresh angle to a story that’s existed in the public consciousness for 150 years? Bring in the Kate Moss archetype, Aleister Crowley, and a junk shop. Obviously. In his novel Through A Looking Glass Darkly, Jake Fior reimagines Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass with Alice as a teenager caught in a dark and dangerous landscape accessed by a bewitched and bewitching junk shop mirror. Incorporating special appearances by a young Aleister Crowley and his malignant quest for control of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Fior also recontextualises the chess-game structure of Carroll’s original through a range of specialised citations, revealing a much wider meaning.
As Alice moves through a world of paranoia and the occult, Fior also documents his own experience of writing the novel, with the final chapter revealing yet more conspiracies that seem to hint towards the historical inevitability that the publication of the book would come to pass.
The Revisionaries by A.R. Moxon
(Melville House, 9781612198729, p/b, £14.99)
The Revisionaries has had a lot of praise. It has been described as “equally audacious and brilliant” (Washington Post), “impossibly otherworldly yet rigorously persuasive” (Benjamin Dreyer) and “a spectacular invention” (The New York Times). By strange coincidence, it is also the second book on this list to be somewhat related to the work of Lewis Carroll. A.R Moxon’s debut is something of a version of Alice in Wonderland, right down to a suspiciously well-informed chain-smoker cropping up at opportune moments.
The novel reads like a comic book, featuring superpowers and jaw-dropping plot lines. It’s inventive and strange, and frankly a total trip. It also serves as a warning of the dangers of relying too much on that weird dude on the corner who claims the end is nigh, and whom among us hasn’t been there?
The Adventures And Misadventures Of The Extraordinary And Admirable Joan Orpí, Conquistador And Founder Of New Catalonia by Max Besora, trans by Mara Faye Lethem (Open Letter, 9781948830249, p/b, £14.99)
Okay. Finished reading the title of this book yet? This one’s what we call a faux-historical novel, based on real events but loaded up with anachronisms and humour. The book is in conversation with other satirical novels like Don Quixote and Gulliver’s Travels, showing a fresh perspective of Catalonia during the Golden Age of the Spanish Empire. It’s a playful work written in an imagined dialect reminiscent of Middle English, so the book depends just as much on the phenomenal creativity of Mara Faye Lethem’s English translation as it does Max Besora’s original. What an exercise in craft.
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