Ten Books

by Timothy J Jarvis

Over on Facebook I was nominated to do the ‘ten books that have stayed with me’ meme-thing, and I thought I’d give it a go, and do it properly, see what it threw up about my taste that perhaps, if I’d spent time consciously putting together a list of books that have influenced me, I might have hidden somehow. I found out it was pretty much impossible not to cheat, at least a little, but also that the first book that came to mind pretty much dictated the list – the chain of associations was strong… On any given day the list might have turned out differently.

Anyway, here’s today’s:

  1. The Island of Doctor Moreau – HG Wells: There’s something about Wells’s vision of Moreau’s hubris and the becoming-human animals that’s utterly horrific, and impossible to shake.
  2. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman – Angela Carter: Another doctor… And a mad and brilliantly scatological and seminal picaresque – in the actual best of all possible worlds, someone gave Alejandro Jodorowsky a big budget to make a film of this novel, and it’s the best film ever.
  3. Locus Solus – Raymond Roussel: So I’ll never get all the puns – my French isn’t good enough to read it in the original – but even in translation you get a sense of Roussel’s insane schema underlying the crazy set-pieces.
  4. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte: I’ve taught this novel, and I still really like it – which is a sign of something. When I first read it I was very pleased to find it much stranger and more eccentric than I’d thought it would be.
  5. The Course of the Heart – M John Harrison: Sordid magicks and broken people. So depressing you’ll vomit. But in prose, and I don’t mean this as vapid cliché, but literal truth, that is luminous.
  6. City of Saints and Madmen – Jeff VanderMeer: The interweaving of these texts about the fantastical city of Ambergris, is bogglingly complex. The writing is riotous. Follow-up novels in the setting, Shriek: An Afterword and Finch are also incredible – the urban fantastic completely exploded.
  7. Magic for Beginners – Kelly Link: I love Kelly Link’s short stories. In each one about a hundred different plots and genres collide, and somehow they don’t quite fall over. It’s exhilarating.
  8. The Red Tree – Caitlin R Kiernan: I read this on holiday – I was relaxed, the weather was beautiful, yet the book still gripped and terrified me. An mesmerizing and truly frightening work of found-manuscript horror – dread seeps out from the onion-skin layers of the narrative to infect the space you’re reading in.
  9. The Hill of Dreams – Arthur Machen: No synopsis of this novel can do justice to Machen’s extraordinary oneiric prose and bizarre sublime vision. But – young man living in London tries to write a novel, goes mad, writes gibberish. So, yes…
  10. Melmoth the Wanderer – Charles Robert Maturin: The title of my novel, The Wanderer, plays homage to Maturin’s brilliantly convolute work – thought of by critics as the book that closed the original fruiting (as in fungal bodies) of the Gothic. It brings, to the violence of the Gothic, a high-Romantic sensibility, but also, and more incongruously, the comical, sceptical, and metatextual mood of Renaissance and Enlightenment satire – it’s an awkward but potent blend.
  11. More Things in Heaven… – Walter Owen: A gift eleventh text – perhaps something of a Greek gift, as you’ll see. A very strange novel about an Zoroastrian plot to wipe out the descendants of Alexander the Great. It’s a sequence of linked narratives about cursed manuscripts, manuscripts that cause readers to spontaneously combust, a strange mix of virtuoso pastiche of historical documents and arcana, in some ways prefiguring Borges. Supposedly it’s, according to bookseller lore, cursed itself. And, as the flat I was living in burnt down soon after I read it, I can’t in all conscience recommend it, good though it is…