Fantastic Fiction in 2011

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In Lars Iyer’s Spurious (Melville House, January), two intellectuals go on a quest to understand themselves, discover the meaning of life and find out why an unstoppable fungus is taking over one of their houses. A premise which combines Goon Show-esque humour with profound questioning is certainly intriguing; all the more so as it’s a philosophy professor’s fictional debut.

If cerebral fungi aren’t your cup of tea, look at Michael Cunningham’s latest, By Nightfall (Harper, January). When an unexpected guest arrives in his home, Peter, a New York art-dealer, is affected in a way he cannot quite explain. He comes to realise that he is in love with two people at the same time. His wife. And her brother. This taboo-breaking plot, likely, judging by earlier works, to be combined with a captivating innovation of style, and coming from the award-winning author of The Hours, promises to be a mesmerising literary experience.

But if you feel that you’ve already got enough weighty books on your reading list and want a page-turner instead, there’s always Before I Go to Sleep (S.J. Watson, Doubleday, April). After an accident in her twenties, Christine forgets everything of the preceding day whilst she sleeps. Every morning, she has to relearn the past twenty years she has forgotten. This may sound a similar premise to Fifty First Dates, but this chilling story is far from rom-com, especially when the one person Christine trusts may not be telling her the whole truth.

With the disappearance of an eight-year-old girl, the sleepy town of Hanmouth is suddenly put under the microscope of the press in Philip Hensher’s King of the Badgers (Harper, March). As the apparently calm community starts to fall apart, the often comic lives of the individuals who live there are laid bare. A realist novel about a community losing its privacy – cross Middlemarch with 1984 – a crime novel, a political novel, tragic yet humorous too: King of the Badgers sounds like an amalgam of different genres, and given Hensher’s previous success, the odds are this will be one worth looking at.

Finally, for those who prefer dipping into books, there’s Anthony Doerr’s collection of short stories, Memory Wall (Harper, January), which, like Before I Go To Sleep, investigates the correspondence of the past with the present. The nature of short stories inevitably facilitates diversity – and Memory Wall looks ready to exploit this to its full potential. Like another new release, Island of Wings, this book will make you travel with it across (four) continents – and through the minds of characters of many backgrounds and ages.

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