1. Samanta Schweblin, Fever Dream
This is a weird hallucination of a book—reading it feels like an experience, like something that happens to you, as infectious and mysterious and unstoppable and possibly magical as the disease that powers its plot. There is absolutely no way to put it down without breaking the spell, so make sure you’re comfy.
2. Jenny Erpenbeck, Visitation
A lovely, slim novel that tells the stories of the various inhabitants of a house on a wooded bit of land near a lake outside Berlin, before, during and after WWII—but like Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, it is not really about the inhabitants, but rather very pointedly about time, and the pull of place. The overlapping narratives and use of time even within narratives give the sense of coloured transparencies laid over one another.
3. Katie Kitamura, A Separation
The plot is, essentially, this: a woman follows her estranged (and unresponsive) husband to Greece, where she proceeds to look for him (and discover the mysteries he’s left in his wake). Kitamura’s spare language somehow seems barely able to control the emotion it signifies. In some ways, this is a meditation on the stories we paint onto other people, and how little we can really know them—which, honestly, will keep you up at night as much or more than any missing person.
4. Richard Hughes, A High Wind in Jamaica
A surprisingly terrifying short novel about children kidnapped by pirates, elevated from its silliness by surprising moments of violence and introspection, as well as repeated flourishes of literary brilliance. Also, it’s funny. Take for instance, this passage: “Being nearly four years old, she was certainly a child: and children are human (if one allows the term “human” a wide sense): but she had not altogether ceased to be a baby: and babies are of course not human—they are animals, and have a very ancient and ramified culture, as cats have, and fishes, and even snakes: the same in kind as these, but much more complicated and vivid, since babies are, after all, one of the most developed species of the lower vertebrates.”
5. Donald Antrim, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World
For my money one of the best novels ever written, of any length. Something bad is happening in Pete Robinson’s town—something that has his neighbors building moats around their homes and all the members of the Rotary Club finding their inner animals (his wife is, apparently, the prehistoric coelacanth). Oh, and the mayor has been drawn and quartered. Even if you don’t want to know what happens next, this novel will have you flipping pages just to get to each new delicious surrealist detail.