Literature’s 12 Most Unusual Books

Posted by Bijal Shah on

Unusual Books

In general, well-known works of fiction compel us to celebrate the creativity of the writer. The books listed here however take creativity to a whole new level, particularly Henry Darger’s eccentric manuscript on the Vivian Girls beautifully analysed and explained in John M Macgregor’s Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal (only a genius or otherwise truly bizarre mind can drum up the content he crafted over decades), Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore with its stupendous world of talking cats, spirits that make love or kill and oedipal fantasies, Margaret Atwood’s disturbing dystopia, Oryx and Crake and Catherine Dunn’s fascinatingly odd Geek Love.

Nonetheless these highly imaginative and unique yet strange works should be read, celebrated and shared.

These are literature’s 13 most unusual books. This list becomes more bizarre as we descend it (with the best saved for last). I do note that these are not for the faint-hearted and if you are not the type to explore highly unusual content, then be warned these might not be your cup of tea. If you’re curious and love novel things that may or may not be considered controversial, then you have come to the right place.

If there are other books that should be added to the list, please feel free to do so in the comments section below.

1. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
    Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

    Born. Dead. Born again. Dead. Reborn….This is the narrative of Atkinson’s book where the book’s heroine, Ursula Todd, initially born in 1910 to an English banker and his wife, undergoes a series of terrifying and unfortunate deaths followed by hopeful reincarnations (for want of a better word). Each reincarnation is better than the last through better life choices and decisions as a sense of deju vu persists throughout.

    Ursula witnesses two World Wars and continues to build stronger bonds with the same characters that present themselves in each life. Some relationships survive even the boundaries of time. This book is like marmite — you’ll either love it or hate it. It gets better with each life so don’t be too quick to dismiss it. You’ll be glad that you stayed till the end. Grab your copy at:

    2. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

    Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

    A story about a 15 year old boy who runs away from home in search of his sister and mother. The book discusses his relationship with his father who is still reeling from wartime wounds and memories. The story is set in a bizarre world where flutes are made from cat’s souls, spirits transcend bodies and hyperlinks teleport you to wartime paranormal activities. There are also hints of the Oedipal complex as a plan to kill his father to reach his long-gone mother/sister unfolds. Glorious story telling by Murakami. Grab your copy at:


    3. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

    Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

    An intoxicating book on perfume-making and murder— Perfume, set in eighteenth century France is the story of a young boy who uses his incredible sense of smell to create the most sensual of smells. He becomes obsessed with capturing all sorts of smells from brass doorknobs to fresh wood until he comes across the ultimate smell — that of a young virgin. His obsession to capture this smell at any cost leads to murder, suspense and an inexplicable urge for sexual abstinence. Grab your copy at:

    4. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

    Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

    With a string of literary awards (nominee for the Man Booker Prize 2003, the Orange Prize for Fiction shortlist for 2004 and Scotiabank Giller Prize 2003) this Margaret Atwood novel, similar to her other works, also plays out a social dystopia that makes you feel this could so easily happen to our world; yet this novel in particular, is by far the most unusual and disturbing dystopia that Atwood has painted (yes more haunting than The Handmaid’s Tale). A mass genetic experiment gone wrong courtesy of corrupt corporations, leads to the desensitisation of humans to violence and paedophilia — people seem to have lost all moral awareness of how immoral these are.

    People loose their creative abilities and have little concept of technology. The book narrates the story about Jimmy who could be the last man on the planet after a plague progressively wipes out humans. He grieves for his best friend Crake who dies and the woman they both love, Oryx. Time is fluid with Atwood switching from the past and present periodically and raises many philosophical questions, particularly around the human need to mess with genes that have evolved over millions of years. Grab your copy at:

    5. The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman

    The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beaumann

    If you are looking for some comic relief after the heaviness of the books listed above, this book is sure to promise a series of laugh-out-loud moments. During a time when serious things such as the expansion of Nazi Germany were taking place, this book seems to ignore all history and instead focus on the book’s main character’s (Loeser’s) pursuit of any sex that he can get in 1930’s Berlin.

    Whilst this might seem like a first world problem back then, the story gets more and more complicated as time goes on as he builds a teleportation machine for a play, falls in love with the elusive Adele following her around the world, and is faced with a slew of unresolved murder mysteries. The whole story delightfully and cleverly comes together at the end. If not for anything else, simply read this for the reading experience. Grab your copy at:

    6. Geek Love: A Novel by Catherine Dunn

    Geek Love: A Novel by Catherine Dunn

    You may not be able to make up your mind on whether you like this book, but it will for sure leave you entertained. A string of odd family characters with stark personalities, the story promotes in-family breeding in a bid to keep the family business alive (a circus carnival), resulting in misfit children with physical deformities and some that eat live chicken heads at performances.

    However Dunn’s goal is to highlight the power in being different and profiting from this difference. Expect to be horrified and disgusted, but also expect to experience the true humanity of these characters. Highly original, with exceptional writing, everything is possible in literature. Grab your copy at:

    7. The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman

    The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman

    Another superb thriller haunted by a plague called ‘Posies’ that has been killing people for generations before they hit the youthful age of twenty. Motivated by her brother’s suffering of the disease, the book’s heroine, 15-year-old Ice Cream Star, sets off on a journey to save her world and search desperately for a cure. Given anyone alive is under twenty years old, she is faced with navigating herself through a world whose rules and structures are created by children.

    Unpredictable with the dystopian possibility that this world continues to remain ruled by children forever. Ambitious writing with its own invented dialect that narrates an ominous, ‘end-of-the-world’ story. Helpful tip — you may need to take notes due to the length of the book and the detail and dialect involved. If you’ve read and enjoyed Cloud Atlas, you’ll love this. Grab your copy at:

    8. The Voynich Manuscript by Author Unknown

    The Voynich Manuscript

    Named after the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich who purchased it in 1912, the book was originally written in 1438 and has actually been ‘carbon-dated’ to reveal the contents of the manuscript.

    It is written in an incomprehensible language and believed to be set in Northern Italy. Divided into three sections (with two introductions and a manuscript). The book features medical and astronomical drawings together with pictures of naked women and looks like a possible magical spell book. Great for a coffee table buy or if you are looking for a code to crack, this elusive manuscript still stands as one of the greatest unsolved mysteries. Grab your copy at:

    9. Codex Seraphinus by Luigi Serafini

    Codex Seraphinus by Luigi Serafini

    Similar to The Voynich Manuscript, Codex Seraphinus is a vibrant and visual collection of beautiful art explained in an unknown language. Its meaning has been debated for generations, it seems to portray the process of coding and decoding things, such as genetics and computer science. However what makes it different to The Voynich Manuscript, is that it was only published recently in 1981 by an Italian artist, Luigi Serafini, and its audience is meant to be the information age generation. What is truly more bizarre is that, Serafini claims the author was actually a white cat that was passing on revelations and messages to him and he was merely putting down the cats’ words and thoughts to paper. The book’s alien feel makes it one of the strangest books ever written. Grab your copy at:

    10. Dancing Lessons for the Advanced In Age by Bohumil Hrabal

    Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age by Bohumil Hrabal

    A book that spills out every single piece of gossip about the author written by the author — from scandals, to domestic fights, to military quests, to lovers. Furthermore the spill happens in one long sentence following a stream-of-consciousness narrative told to a group of sunbathing women. Poetic, autobiographical, confessional, the author openly shows all his sides from vulnerable to boastful to disappointed, desperate and full of regret. Hrabal developed this unique technique of story-telling calling it ‘palavering’.

    A talented writer, Hrabal was initially barred from publishing much of his work in 1960s Czeckoslavakia (now Prague) however since then much of his writing has been published. His most famous being the novella ‘Closely Watched Trains’ which was made into a motion picture and won the 1967 Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film. Grab your copy at:

    11. John Dee’s Five Books of Mystery: Original Sourcebook of Enochian Magic by Joseph Peterson

    John Dee’s Five Books of Mystery by Joseph Peterson

    John Dee was a notable scientist and occultist in the 1500s, popular and even served as a key consultant to Queen Elizabeth I. Joseph Peterson’s book on John Dee pulls together his secret writings that were only discovered in Dee’s old chest after his death.

    Peterson’s book comprises 5 little books that Dee had written between March 1582 and May 1583 that detail a methodology of how to talk and communicate with angels and practice ritual magic. The books even prophecise the angels desire to colonise our world. Ever since the discovery of Dee’s books people have used his teachings to learn more about occult science. Grab your copy at:

    12. Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal by John M Macgregor

    Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal by John M Macgregor

    Henry Darger was a strange man — having lived a solitary life in a cramped studio apartment for over 40 years, working as a janitor, he wrote an eight volume autobiography (5,084 pages) titled ‘The History of My Life’ and another secret book even more enormous and imaginative. Both were only discovered after he left the cramped apartment for an old person’s home at eighty.

    The latter book called ‘The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion’ was even larger than his autobiography consisting 15 volumes. These included gorgeous water colour illustrations and story script that will leave your imagination either drooling or disgusted. The book gives us an insight into Darger’s alternative world. For a man who seemed poor and led a poor quality of life no one would guess the extent of his elaborate artistic works. Much of the book explores carefree childhood scenes with the seven Vivian sisters who are the main characters of the book.

    Macgregor’s book captures the essence of this second book and provides an analysis of the author, his mindset and the motivations for his art and story telling. The original copy of ‘The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion’ is the longest piece of fiction writing in human history. The collections of the original book are located at museums in New York (MOMA, American Folk Art Museum) or Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago or Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art) or even Tasmania (The Museum of Old and New Art).

    In the meantime, John M Mcgregor’s Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal might provide quicker access to the content of this exceptionally artistic, imaginative and eccentric book of all time.

    Grab your copy of John M Mcgregor’s ‘Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal’ at:

    A big hello and thank you for reading! Passionate about literature, psychology, and life I launched Book Therapy as an alternative form of therapy using the power of literature. I create reading lists/book prescriptions based on your individual needs. Feel free to reach out to me at or You can also check out Book Therapy’s other free reading lists and book prescriptions.

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