1. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.
I first read this in my late teens and the tale of Gregor Samsa transfixed me with its oddness. Scary and beguiling it was only when I read it again in my 20’s that I started to pick up on some of the themes of isolation and transformation.
2. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
Ok not really a novel but talk about surreal. Supposedly a children’s book but a weird and wonderful book for all ages, the pictures in this book haunted my dreams for many years. For me the book was a portal to a dream world that I always suspected existed and introduced me to the idea of subverting the norm. Also check out Spike Jonze’s underrated and masterful film adaptation. Cerebral and quite beautiful.
3. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
Long ago there was a BBC adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic and it was fantastic. Here was something different that just connected with me. I then saw the Disney version and soon joined the dots, from Carroll to the Beatles, back a bit to the Goons and onto Monty Python via the Muppet show. Later on I loved Harry Hill, the Mighty Boosh and the League of Gentlemen. All seemed to speak to me like nothing else. It all started with Carroll though and his writing helped me to see that I could go elsewhere.
4. John Dies at the End by David Wong.
I don’t think I’ve ever laughed out loud as much whilst reading a book. Imagine Evil Dead and the X-Files meets Bill and Ted but as a sitcom, directed by Richard Linklater, what’s that you can’t? You’ll have to read the book to find out what I mean. Spoiler alert John does die at the end, or does he? Seriously this book contains writing like you’ve never experienced before.
5. Slaughterhouse 5/Catch-22 by Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller.
I have included these together as the share themes and could be companions. Taking the ideas of surrealism and merging them with the counter-cultural movement both these novels reflect on the horrors of war through absurd situations and larger than life characters and even a little time travel. The devastating truth behind both these stories is they could seem like satire to some but these experiences were like a surreal nightmare for those caught up in war and the only way to survive was to embrace the madness around them. Terrifying and starkly beautiful. Anti-war novels told by war veterans, viewed as subversive but actually telling the truth, which as recent history has shown us can seem counter-cultural.
Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day. He has walked through a door in 1955 and come out another one in 1941. He has gone through that door to find himself in 1963. He has seen his birth and death many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the events in between.
He says.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5