1. Black Hole by Charles Burns
Growing up is dangerous business, as teenagers in a suburban Seattle town soon discover when a mysterious sexually transmitted plague descends upon their sleepy little corner of the world. This is a highly sexualised, twisted horror graphic novel, coloured entirely in black and all the more nightmarish for it.
Teenagers undergo grotesque mutations, boils and horns appear overnight, skins peel off, and an entire talking mouth even appears on one poor character’s neck. There’s an undercurrent of desperation, apprehension and fear that runs through all the character’s motivations.
At its heart, Black Hole cuts to the crux of every teenager’s topmost concern: what does it means to fit in with the cool crowd, and what happens to the outsiders, the nobodies, the freaks. Charles Burns’ art is simple yet dark, surreal and super creepy. Highly recommended to anyone in their early twenties.
2. Night Film by Marisha Pessl
A genius, enigmatic model-daughter of a Hollywood cult director commits suicide. The rest of this complex novel is a collection of screenshots, police reports, news clippings and transcripts that try to unravel the reasons behind Ashley Cordova’s premature death and her reclusive father’s cult status amongst his legion of fans.
There are various plot summaries of Stanley Cordova’s Lynch-like films, screened only in the secrecy of the night. Watching any one of them supposedly causes the viewer to leave his old self behind, walk through the doors of hell and emerge reborn at the film’s end. Pretty cathartic stuff.
There’s black magic in here, tribal blood sacrifices and secret Internet forums, too, but the kicker is the dream-like sequence through an incredibly complex series of stage sets of every single Cordova film ever made, complete with props and dead bodies. Reading Night Film was like entering a long, disturbing and sophisticated hallucination that lingered sleepily after the last page.
3. Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shariar Mandanipour
A novel by an Iranian writer about an Iranian writer who wants to write a love story and see it published in Iran. But he finds himself in a metaphorical burqa. Almost everything he writes is in danger of being censored, because it’s politically offensive, or blasphemous, or offensive to some unknown third-party.
Forget the writer’s block. This is every writer’s biggest nightmare. What do you do when you’ve managed to write a simple boy-meets-girl love story but you can’t even publish it? Circumstances threaten to kill characters; other characters go out of control within the story, assert their independence from the writer and rebel against the story and narrator. Sentences, phrases and paragraphs are striked through. Read this novel if you want to know how Shariar Mandanipour manages to treat censorship like a new literary form, much like a sonnet or a graphic novel.
4. S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
S. is a book that takes place in the margins of another book. There are actual, physical notes, postcards and clippings wedged between the pages of this hefty tome. There are even several websites dedicated to helping readers keep track of the various paraphernalia found in the book. Have I gotten your attention yet?
Essentially, S. the novel comprises of a fictional novel Ship of Theseus written by a fictional author, V.M. Straka. All the pages within Ship of Theseus feature handwritten notes in the margins. It’s like you went to the bookstore and bought an example of the type of book one can find in libraries all over the world. The notes in the margin belong to two students, passing the book back and forth and creating a kind of dialogue between each other. Now if you ever figure out how to read this super metafictional book, drop me a message. I’d love to go back to university just to study a text this jaw droppingly beautiful and complicated in class.