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Magical Realism

Magical realism is a genre which very much interests me, but one which I know I don’t read enough.  I have created a post where I wish to showcase ten works of magical realist fiction – five which I have personally loved, and five which very much intrigue me – with the hope of incorporating more books of the genre into my future reading.

97801404554651. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov *****
Mikhail Bulgakov’s devastating satire of Soviet life was written during the darkest period of Stalin’s regime. Combining two distinct yet interwoven parts—one set in ancient Jerusalem, one in contemporary Moscow—the novel veers from moods of wild theatricality with violent storms, vampire attacks, and a Satanic ball; to such somber scenes as the meeting of Pilate and Yeshua, and the murder of Judas in the moonlit garden of Gethsemane; to the substanceless, circus-like reality of Moscow. Its central characters, Woland (Satan) and his retinue—including the vodka-drinking black cat, Behemoth; the poet, Ivan Homeless; Pontius Pilate; and a writer known only as The Master, and his passionate companion, Margarita—exist in a world that blends fantasy and chilling realism, an artful collage of grotesqueries, dark comedy, and timeless ethical questions.

 

2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern ***** (review here)
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.   Within these nocturnal black-and-white striped tents awaits an utterly unique, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stare in wonderment as the tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and become deliciously tipsy from the scents of caramel and cinnamon that waft through the air.  Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves.  Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is under way–a contest between two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in a “game” to which they have been irrevocably bound by their mercurial masters. Unbeknownst to the players, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will.  As the circus travels around the world, the feats of magic gain fantastical new heights with every stop. The game is well under way and the lives of all those involved–the eccentric circus owner, the elusive contortionist, the mystical fortune-teller, and a pair of red-headed twins born backstage among them–are swept up in a wake of spells and charms.

 

3. The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter ****9781844085231
One night Melanie walks through the garden in her mother’s wedding dress. The next morning her world is shattered. Forced to leave the comfortable home of her childhood, she is sent to London to live with relatives she never met: Aunt Margaret, beautiful and speechless, and her brothers, Francie, whose graceful music belies his clumsy nature, and the volatile Finn, who kisses Melanie in the ruins of the pleasure garden. And brooding Uncle Philip loves only the life-sized wooden puppets he creates in his toyshops. The classic gothic novel established Angela Carter as one of our most imaginative writers and augurs the themes of her later creative works.

 

4. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger *****
Audrey Niffenegger’s dazzling debut is the story of Clare, a beautiful, strong-minded art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: his genetic clock randomly resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity from his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous and unpredictable, and lend a spectacular urgency to Clare and Henry’s unconventional love story. That their attempt to live normal lives together is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control makes their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

 

97800995382645. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender ****
The wondrous Aimee Bender conjures the lush and moving story of a girl whose magical gift is really a devastating curse.  On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother — her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother — tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.  The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.  The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them.

 

6. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Kafka on the Shore is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom.  As their paths converge, and the reasons for that convergence become clear, Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder. Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers.

 

7. Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King 9781101994887
“I am sixteen years old. I am a human being.”  Actually Sarah is several human beings. At once. And only one of them is sixteen. Her parents insist she’s a gifted artist with a bright future, but now she can’t draw a thing, not even her own hand. Meanwhile, there’s a ten-year-old Sarah with a filthy mouth, a bad sunburn, and a clear memory of the family vacation in Mexico that ruined everything. She’s a ray of sunshine compared to twenty-three-year-old Sarah, who has snazzy highlights and a bad attitude. And then there’s forty-year-old Sarah (makes good queso dip, doesn’t wear a bra, really wants sixteen-year-old Sarah to tell the truth about her art teacher). They’re all wandering Philadelphia—along with a homeless artist allegedly named Earl—and they’re all worried about Sarah’s future.  But Sarah’s future isn’t the problem. The present is where she might be having an existential crisis. Or maybe all those other Sarahs are trying to wake her up before she’s lost forever in the tornado of violence and denial that is her parents’ marriage.

 

8. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.  In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven – but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.  As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

 

97802419516519. Eva Luna by Isabel Allende
”My name is Eva, which means ‘life’, according to a book of names my mother consulted. I was born in the back room of a shadowy house, and grew up amidst ancient furniture, books in Latin, and human mummies, but none of those things made me melancholy, because I came into the world with a breath of the jungle in my memory’. Isabel Allende tells the sweet and sinister story of an orphan who beguiles the world with her astonishing visions, triumphing over the worst of adversity and bringing light to a dark place.’

 

10. The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
‘On his third birthday Oskar decides to stop growing. Haunted by the deaths of his parents and wielding his tin drum Oskar recounts the events of his extraordinary life; from the long nightmare of the Nazi era to his anarchic adventures in post-war Germany.’

 

What is your favourite work of magical realism?  Have you read any of these?  Which other books would you recommend?

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One From the Archive: ‘Raven Girl’ by Audrey Niffenegger ****

Raven Girl is the eagerly anticipated new release from the bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Here, in her longest illustrated book to date, Niffenegger has married together her love of art and literature. The illustrations throughout have been produced with an ‘aquatint’ technique, which uses ‘metal, acid, wax and rosin’ and dates from the seventeenth century. Aesthetically, the book is a work of art. It has been beautifully produced, and has silvered edges, glossy pages and beautiful pieces of art which sit alongside the carefully crafted story.

‘Raven Girl’

Niffenegger has strived to create a modern day fairytale ‘full of wonderment and longing’, and a ‘mesmerising story that explores the bounds of transformation and possibility’. Raven Girl is a quick read, but a striking and unforgettable one nonetheless. It opens with the intriguing line: ‘Once there was a Postman who fell in love with a Raven’. The story unfolds from here. The characters are all unnamed throughout and go by their easily identifiable titles of ‘Postman’, ‘Raven’, ‘Raven Girl’, ‘the doctor’ and ‘The Boy’. Similiarly, the English city in which the ‘flat, desolate suburb’ of the story takes place is vague in its location.

The real crux of the story comes when the Postman is tasked with delivering a letter to an address which is unknown to him – ‘Dripping Rock, Ravens’ Nest’. On meeting the Raven, who has fallen out of the nest at this address, her brothers ‘made unflattering comments about the Postman, whom they mistook for a cat; none of them had seen a person before, and cats featured in all the scary stories their parents told them at bedtime’. The Postman, believing the Raven to be ill, ‘wrapped her up in his scarf and began the long walk home, the Raven trembling in his arms’. Once at his home, he cares for her rather touchingly: ‘He made her a nest out of his old uniforms and shredded junk mail, and she lived on his kitchen table. He fed her sardines, earthworms, eggs, cheese, Weetabix, and raw lamb chops’.

As the story continues, the Postman and the Raven’s relationship begins to build. ‘As the days and weeks went by’, Niffenegger writes, ‘the Raven was charmed by the Postman. She understood that he meant no harm and that he was not a cat… Slowly the Raven and the Postman began to fall in love’. An egg is laid, ‘greenish-bluish with brown speckles’, and a ‘human girl’ hatches from it. This is the Raven Girl of the book’s title. Her life is a sad one in many respects – she cannot communicate with her father and she is lonely in her childhood – but her parents are determined that she should live as normally as is possible. They send her off to University, where she studies Biology. A visiting lecturer, teaching Raven Girl and her fellow students about chimeras – creatures made from two or more different species – tells her that he can turn her into a bird.

The characters are described to us as soon as they are introduced. The Postman is described as ‘no longer being a young and ardent postman… He yearned to have an adventure, but suspected that he probably wouldn’t… He sometimes had nightmares that featured e-mail’. Such touching and unique details make the characters seem realistic almost immediately, and they feel more endearing in consequence, merely because we know the secrets which bubble below their fixed exteriors. The Raven Girl, too, feels realistic – she is a misfit of the most original kind.

Raven Girl feels like a modern fable in many ways. Its structure is dreamlike in places, and the mixture of the human’s relationship with a creature and the lack of named characters certainly adds to this. The story is inventive, and Niffenegger astounds in the way in which she is always able to create something so utterly unique. Not one of her books is alike, but all are incredibly intriguing and have a way of drawing the reader in almost immediately. The writing style, both simplistic and quite poetic at times, is pitch perfect for such a story. Niffenegger has woven together many elements, from ethics and genetics to the future of humanity in just a few pages, and for this she should certainly be commended.

1

One From the Archive: ‘Raven Girl’ by Audrey Niffenegger ****

Published in April 2012.

Raven Girl is the eagerly anticipated new release from the bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Here, in her longest illustrated book to date, Niffenegger has married together her love of art and literature. The illustrations throughout have been produced with an ‘aquatint’ technique, which uses ‘metal, acid, wax and rosin’ and dates from the seventeenth century. Aesthetically, the book is a work of art. It has been beautifully produced, and has silvered edges, glossy pages and beautiful pieces of art which sit alongside the carefully crafted story.

‘Raven Girl’

Niffenegger has strived to create a modern day fairytale ‘full of wonderment and longing’, and a ‘mesmerising story that explores the bounds of transformation and possibility’. Raven Girl is a quick read, but a striking and unforgettable one nonetheless. It opens with the intriguing line: ‘Once there was a Postman who fell in love with a Raven’. The story unfolds from here. The characters are all unnamed throughout and go by their easily identifiable titles of ‘Postman’, ‘Raven’, ‘Raven Girl’, ‘the doctor’ and ‘The Boy’. Similiarly, the English city in which the ‘flat, desolate suburb’ of the story takes place is vague in its location.

The real crux of the story comes when the Postman is tasked with delivering a letter to an address which is unknown to him – ‘Dripping Rock, Ravens’ Nest’. On meeting the Raven, who has fallen out of the nest at this address, her brothers ‘made unflattering comments about the Postman, whom they mistook for a cat; none of them had seen a person before, and cats featured in all the scary stories their parents told them at bedtime’. The Postman, believing the Raven to be ill, ‘wrapped her up in his scarf and began the long walk home, the Raven trembling in his arms’. Once at his home, he cares for her rather touchingly: ‘He made her a nest out of his old uniforms and shredded junk mail, and she lived on his kitchen table. He fed her sardines, earthworms, eggs, cheese, Weetabix, and raw lamb chops’.

As the story continues, the Postman and the Raven’s relationship begins to build. ‘As the days and weeks went by’, Niffenegger writes, ‘the Raven was charmed by the Postman. She understood that he meant no harm and that he was not a cat… Slowly the Raven and the Postman began to fall in love’. An egg is laid, ‘greenish-bluish with brown speckles’, and a ‘human girl’ hatches from it. This is the Raven Girl of the book’s title. Her life is a sad one in many respects – she cannot communicate with her father and she is lonely in her childhood – but her parents are determined that she should live as normally as is possible. They send her off to University, where she studies Biology. A visiting lecturer, teaching Raven Girl and her fellow students about chimeras – creatures made from two or more different species – tells her that he can turn her into a bird.

The characters are described to us as soon as they are introduced. The Postman is described as ‘no longer being a young and ardent postman… He yearned to have an adventure, but suspected that he probably wouldn’t… He sometimes had nightmares that featured e-mail’. Such touching and unique details make the characters seem realistic almost immediately, and they feel more endearing in consequence, merely because we know the secrets which bubble below their fixed exteriors. The Raven Girl, too, feels realistic – she is a misfit of the most original kind.

Raven Girl feels like a modern fable in many ways. Its structure is dreamlike in places, and the mixture of the human’s relationship with a creature and the lack of named characters certainly adds to this. The story is inventive, and Niffenegger astounds in the way in which she is always able to create something so utterly unique. Not one of her books is alike, but all are incredibly intriguing and have a way of drawing the reader in almost immediately. The writing style, both simplistic and quite poetic at times, is pitch perfect for such a story. Niffenegger has woven together many elements, from ethics and genetics to the future of humanity in just a few pages, and for this she should certainly be commended.

Purchase from the Book Depository

2

One From the Archive: ‘Raven Girl’ by Audrey Niffenegger ****

Published in April 2012.

Raven Girl is the eagerly anticipated new release from the bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Here, in her longest illustrated book to date, Niffenegger has married together her love of art and literature. The illustrations throughout have been produced with an ‘aquatint’ technique, which uses ‘metal, acid, wax and rosin’ and dates from the seventeenth century. Aesthetically, the book is a work of art. It has been beautifully produced, and has silvered edges, glossy pages and beautiful pieces of art which sit alongside the carefully crafted story.

‘Raven Girl’

Niffenegger has strived to create a modern day fairytale ‘full of wonderment and longing’, and a ‘mesmerising story that explores the bounds of transformation and possibility’. Raven Girl is a quick read, but a striking and unforgettable one nonetheless. It opens with the intriguing line: ‘Once there was a Postman who fell in love with a Raven’. The story unfolds from here. The characters are all unnamed throughout and go by their easily identifiable titles of ‘Postman’, ‘Raven’, ‘Raven Girl’, ‘the doctor’ and ‘The Boy’. Similiarly, the English city in which the ‘flat, desolate suburb’ of the story takes place is vague in its location.

The real crux of the story comes when the Postman is tasked with delivering a letter to an address which is unknown to him – ‘Dripping Rock, Ravens’ Nest’. On meeting the Raven, who has fallen out of the nest at this address, her brothers ‘made unflattering comments about the Postman, whom they mistook for a cat; none of them had seen a person before, and cats featured in all the scary stories their parents told them at bedtime’. The Postman, believing the Raven to be ill, ‘wrapped her up in his scarf and began the long walk home, the Raven trembling in his arms’. Once at his home, he cares for her rather touchingly: ‘He made her a nest out of his old uniforms and shredded junk mail, and she lived on his kitchen table. He fed her sardines, earthworms, eggs, cheese, Weetabix, and raw lamb chops’.

As the story continues, the Postman and the Raven’s relationship begins to build. ‘As the days and weeks went by’, Niffenegger writes, ‘the Raven was charmed by the Postman. She understood that he meant no harm and that he was not a cat… Slowly the Raven and the Postman began to fall in love’. An egg is laid, ‘greenish-bluish with brown speckles’, and a ‘human girl’ hatches from it. This is the Raven Girl of the book’s title. Her life is a sad one in many respects – she cannot communicate with her father and she is lonely in her childhood – but her parents are determined that she should live as normally as is possible. They send her off to University, where she studies Biology. A visiting lecturer, teaching Raven Girl and her fellow students about chimeras – creatures made from two or more different species – tells her that he can turn her into a bird.

The characters are described to us as soon as they are introduced. The Postman is described as ‘no longer being a young and ardent postman… He yearned to have an adventure, but suspected that he probably wouldn’t… He sometimes had nightmares that featured e-mail’. Such touching and unique details make the characters seem realistic almost immediately, and they feel more endearing in consequence, merely because we know the secrets which bubble below their fixed exteriors. The Raven Girl, too, feels realistic – she is a misfit of the most original kind.

Raven Girl feels like a modern fable in many ways. Its structure is dreamlike in places, and the mixture of the human’s relationship with a creature and the lack of named characters certainly adds to this. The story is inventive, and Niffenegger astounds in the way in which she is always able to create something so utterly unique. Not one of her books is alike, but all are incredibly intriguing and have a way of drawing the reader in almost immediately. The writing style, both simplistic and quite poetic at times, is pitch perfect for such a story. Niffenegger has woven together many elements, from ethics and genetics to the future of humanity in just a few pages, and for this she should certainly be commended.

Purchase from the Book Depository