For the past week I have been re-reading a charming magic realist novel called The Road to Baghdad by Guneli Gun. The book is described on the cover as “A picaresque novel of magical adventures, begged, borrowed and stolen from the Thousand and One Nights”. It is all the above and more. The novel follows the adventures of Hürü, a young Turkish girl of the 15th Century cast adrift in time on a journey from Istanbul to Baghdad. Hürü is an endearing and feisty heroine and her adventures read like a feminist version of the Thousand and One Nights. The novel is written in an ironic vernacular style and is both humorous and touching as well as being highly original. A hugely enjoyable novel, I recommend it highly.
This book was first published in 1991 so it is probably out of print these days, but you should be able to find a copy at Alibris or ABE.
How I could forget to include the following books in my end of year list I can’t imagine.
The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke is a book of short pieces set in the same alternate England of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Some people found it hard to finish the Jonathan Strange novel, but I loved it. The stories in The Ladies of Grace Adieu are enchanting fairy and folk tales which, if you haven’t read the novel, will give you a taste of Clarke’s inventiveness. Susanna Clarke writes in a whimsically ironic style and her fairy tales have an atmosphere of delicious malice. You can read two of the stories online here and read Peter Wild’s review of the book on the Bookmunch site here. The book also has wonderful illustrations by Charles Vess.
I bought the limited edition hardcover of The Ladies of Grace Adieu directly from Bloomsbury. One unforeseen benefit of doing this is that every day I receive two emails from Bloomsbury, a Word of the Day and a Today in Literary History, both of which I find most informative and enjoyable. The word a day is particularly edifying in that is generally an unusual word like antejentacular, which means “before breakfast” and is a handy companion word to post prandial (after dinner).
Ten Sorry Tales by Mick Jackson is another book of short stories – ten comically black Edward Goreyish tales of odd bods and eccentrics. My favourite was The Lepidoctor where butterflies exact an appropriate revenge on a butterfly collector with help from the lepidoctor of the title. This book too has great illustrations by David Roberts.