5 Works of the Weird
I posted this list before on my (now rather defunct) Wordpress account. Please forgive the re-post, but these are still my go-titles for anyone who wishes to start reading weird fiction. As you can see from the diverse range of subjects and tones on offer here, weird fiction is open to a wide range of narratives. And this list is by no means definitive. Please enjoy the texts from this glorious liquid genre:
- The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, by H.P. Lovecraft
Lovecraft is always a good place to start with the weird, he is the man who popularised the weird story, after all! Lovecraft is quite the literary machine, so he has an impressive back-catalogue of work. On the one hand, this is great — the more Lovecraft, the better — but it can be a bit intimidating because it can be a bit overwhelming. This edition (pictured) is published by Penguin Modern Classics, and is a solid collection of some of Lovecraft’s best short stories, which all incorporate his lavish writing style and deal strange creatures both unknown and unknowable to the humble human mind.
2. Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer
This is a short novel is the first in the Southern Reach trilogy, published last year. The story centres around a team of four scientists sent into a mysterious wilderness known as “Area X”, and documents their exploits in this strange space. I would also strongly recommend continuing with the series and reading the two sequels,Authority and Acceptance. In these later books, the world really expands and you get to see all the bizarre goings-on in the shadowy government agency, called the Southern Reach, that was set up to investigate Area X. I wrote my MA thesis on this series, and it’s bursting with so many brilliant ideas that I seriously struggled to stay within my 15,000 word limit!
3. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
This brilliant novella epitomises the ‘unnerving’ capability of the weird. This is typically classed as a horror story, though it contains no supernatural elements; it is simply a story about a young woman who lives in a big old house at the edge of a small town with her uncle and older sister. Things take a dark turn, however, when you realise the rest of the family were killed by poisoning and the eldest sister was initially suspected but later cleared of charges. Jackson crafts an eerie tale of strange rituals, hostile townsfolk and self-imposed isolation. Any of Jackson’s stories would fit into weird fiction, but this is a particularly good one.
4. The City & The City, by China Miéville
Miéville is probably the coolest weird author around at the moment — he’s making a big splash in the commercial literary market but also in the academic world! Again, any of his novels and short stories could be considered weird, but The City & The City is such a cracking book it deserves to be mentioned. It’s a fast-paced detective story — a girl’s body shows up in a fictional Eastern European city and the protagonist has to solve the circumstances behind her death. But the weird element enters the scene when you learn that this detective happens to live in a space that inhabits to separate cities overlapped on top of one another; the buildings and streets belong to different cities even though they exist side-by-side, and the citizens of one are not allowed to acknowledge inhabitants of the other. Miéville is concerned with philosophical ideas such as boundaries, politics and the function of language, but the beauty of this novel is that it can be enjoyed purely as a gripping crime story (with a few sci-fi elements thrown in).
5. The Beauty, by Aliya Whiteley
I just want everyone to go out and buy this book! It is the most recent publication on this list (published in September 2014) and is a phenomenal cluster of all things weird. It opens with a group of men who inhabit a village where all the women have died from an unknown illness; and, strangely, the graves of the women have begun to sprout mushrooms. Things become even more unsettling when these mushrooms give rise to fungoid, female-shaped creatures known collectively as “The Beauty”; the Beauty disgusts the men, but they also find themselves lusting after it. This book is truly creepy, subversive and very unsettling- all-together, it is monumentally weird!