It's hard to choose one, especially if you're me and download packs of kindle books when you have no idea what they are and then just read whatever looks interesting, but I guess if I had to choose one I might choose Perdido Street Station by China Mieville.
Now, this book is supposed to be weird. And it wildly succeeds, but in more ways than are immediately obvious. It's obviously weird because:
- there are none of the normal 'races' that fantasy relies on so heavily; instead there are weird races based on ancient mythological systems that are mostly unfamiliar to the modern West. There are khepri, a race of creatures with human bodies and scarab beetle heads; vodyanoi, water creatures from Russian mythology (I think), and garuda, a race of giant eagles that don't have any conventional sense of law.
- it is supposed to be horrific. It's a dark world with a lot of unhappiness and crime.
- a lot of the things it describes are viscerally disgusting, especially the description of Remade prostitutes (think Deus Ex, but with animal parts).
But what struck me more was the way it was written. The author is a professor and teaches creative writing, but this book was one of the most difficult to get into I have ever encountered. And I read a LOT. None of the characters are really likeable. The closest thing we have to a likeable character is Lin, a khepri woman, but she is a person with a scarab head who cannot communicate in verbal language. I think it might be an interesting commentary on race, but again, the unfamiliarity puts distance between the reader and the story It also feels like she is a strange portrait of this author's view of feminism - she is from a matriarchal, but backwards, society where the males are just completely scarabs who cannot think or talk, and sex is a painful chore. All of the characters' emotions are described so dispassionately, from such a distance, as through a placid and uncaring mirror. The language is so offputting. It's like reading a thesaurus - he uses a ton of unusual words, including a couple words I've never even seen before, which is something I don't encounter all that often. And I like learning new words so that was cool. But it put SO much distance between me and the book. Every single thing about that book was so incredibly foreign that there was a gigantic wall between me and it. It took a lot of willpower to finish it, even though it's kind of an interesting story. I kind of think it was meant to be that way, but why? Why would someone write a book that almost no one will finish reading because it is so hard to care about the story? Just to exemplify postmodernity?
What about you? What's the weirdest book you've ever picked up? Did you finish it?