6 Strange Tales for Strange Times

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Zoe Robertson

Staff Writer

Zoe Robertson is a horror fiction writer and lover of bizarre books, literature in translation, and vampires.

When I find myself disconcerted by the world around me, an experience I’m sure the majority of us are having, I tend to try and get my anxious hands on the weirdest piece of fiction I can find. I want something that will make me sit in stunned silence once it’s over, or rushing to call a friend to chatter excitedly about it; something that takes me so completely out of the real world that I forget about the endless news alerts, the growing pile of unwashed mugs in the sink, and the unpredictability of the coming weeks. Escaping from our strange world into stranger ones is a common practice, and I think the sense of closure that these books can provide is a comfort. So, if you too are looking for a bonkers portal into other worlds, here is a list of strange stories and unconventional tales that are delightfully different and completely engrossing.

Tentacle coverTentacle by Rita Indiana

Working hard as a cleaner and sex worker in a post-apocalyptic Dominican Republic, Acilde is eager to save up money to afford testosterone, as well as top and bottom surgery. However, when a wealthy employer suddenly dies, leaving behind a mythical sea anemone with mysterious powers, Acilde is transported back in time and tasked with saving the Caribbean from its bleak future. Meanwhile, an egotistical man experiences two timelines of reality at once—his own and that of the colonial era—and struggles to find safety in either. An energetic, chaotic exploration of colonialism, gender, climate change, and destiny, Tentacle is an often violent, always changing story that will make you dizzy and desperate to know more. There is a lot going on in this short book, and there are hardly any likable people to be found, but the mind-bending trip it takes you on is like no other.

Under the Skin coverUnder the Skin by Michel Faber

Stalking the roads of Scotland, Isserley keeps her eye out for hitchhiking men who look like they could suit her needs. Once in her car, she ensures them a journey like no other, before returning to her cramped attic bedroom on an isolated farm. A deeply unsettling but poignant exploration of humanity, this story asks what happens when we fail to fit into the world we are literally made for. The writing is hypnotic, grotesque, but starkly beautiful, as it steadily defamiliarizes you to your own reality and replaces it with Isserley’s perspective of beauty, companionship, and personal autonomy. One of the best books on loneliness out there, and one of the weirdest, Under the Skin will make yours crawl and squirm for freedom.

Mr Fox coverMr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

A strange story of identity and the monstrous potential of fiction, this refurbished fairytale follows Mr Fox and Mary, whose relationship often takes the turn for the bloody. Slaughtered countless times in his prose and criticised endlessly in her letters, the pair muse on the purpose of fiction and slip into increasingly vague and unreal scenarios, where memory and daydreams begin to merge into one another. Unable to untangle the sinister webs of words they weave for each other, this haunting and compelling novel is undoubtedly absorbing.

Puzzling for its prose style, which refuses to be contained within any sense of linear time, point of view, or style, the oddness of this story is seductive. Part contemporary tale of love and identity, part unearthed fairy tale from ancient times, Mr Fox is a bizarre but arresting book perfect for getting lost in.

Lights Over Tesco Car Park coverLights Over Tesco Car Park by Jack Bradfield & Poltergeist Theatre

Some sci-fi strangeness is afoot in this play about a group of theatre makers who investigate claims of extraterrestrial sightings above a British grocery store. They are told that an ET is coming to stay at their lead’s Airbnb, and curiously ponder their own alienation, the nature of storytelling, and the weirdness of everyday life.

This is a bizarre tale about what happens if we attempt to find meaning where meaninglessness prevails, how to find connections with others to withstand the irregularity and unpredictability of life, and how we define our human selves in relation to a mysterious Other: what happens if you like aliens more than people? What happens when you see something which rocks your worldview? How do you carry on with the ‘norm’ after you’ve peeked behind the curtain of the universe’s secrets? Uncanny but ultimately affirming, you’ll never look at brownies the same way.

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl coverPaul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor

Paul is a shapeshifter. He is able to change his physical appearance at will, allowing him to explore and embrace the spectrum of his gender identity. The point of his story, though, is that he’s really desperate to get a date wherever he goes. Set during the 1990s AIDS crisis, Paul embraces the punk lifestyle, queer scenes, sex clubs, loud music, festivals, independent zines, activism, and more. He is a carefree, noncommittal drifter who pursues hedonism with determination, creatively exploring all corners of life with humor and open mindedness. This novel of identity and love embraces the weirdness of growing up with warmth and wildness, embracing the dizzying energy of youth in all its messiness. Unconventional in narrative style and for the glimpses into subcultures within subcultures, Paul’s superpower seems banal in comparison to the vibrant scenes he whisks himself through. A story to remind you to seize the moment when potential stress looms, and to lean on those who love you.

The Strange Library coverThe Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

A cautionary, fantastical tale of twisting halls and the potential dangers of libraries, this novella is a multimedia adventure into darkness. Charmingly unusual in its presentation, this novella still manages to pack a bonkers punch as it follows a young boy who gets lost in a hellish library and must find his way out of its labyrinthian traps to safety. There is an odd girl, a strange sheep man, the threat of brains being eaten, and a whole lot of trouble for someone who just wanted to learn about the Ottoman Empire. There is quirky artwork and bold and brilliant graphics that emphasise the unreality of the story and a unique art book as well – do not be fooled by the bright pink design; a thrilling journey awaits inside!