The Weird Novel

The Other SideAs we’ve mentioned before, the short story is by far the most popular form of weird but that doesn’t mean that novels are completely nonexistent in weird fiction. In fact, despite the overwhelming majority of shorter works, there are a number of extremely well written novels that fit the weird fiction label. Moreover, thanks to authors like China Miéville, there are a steady stream of novels being released each year. One need only look at 2014 to see a small but satisfying collection of novels that includes works such as Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy.

Two of the earliest instances of the weird novel were Die andere Seite (The Other Side) by Alfred Kubin and Der Golem (The Golem) by Gustav Meyrink. While Kubin was mostly known for his prints, he also wrote occasionally; The Other Side was a product of his occasional writings. It’s a dark but imaginative work from 1909 about a fantastical land — a place that Kubin imagined to be at the depths of our subconsciousness. Published five years later, Meyrink’s Golem is a novel that is set in a Prague ghetto, one in which the pain and misery of the neighborhood manifest into a being called the Golem.

House on the BorderlandAcross the sea in America, there were a number of works by William Hope Hodgson which were of the novel lengths. Two such works were The Night Land and The House on the Borderland. The latter is an exceptional tale of a man finds some terrible creatures in the ancient countryside of Ireland. Lastly, Kafka might be considered one of the most well known weird novel writers having works like Der Prozess (The Trial) which are fantastic reads despite never being completed. If you include novellas as well, then it’s also worth mentioning two venerated works, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and H. P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness.

MalpertuisThe mid-20th century saw a number of novels that followed the weird tradition but these were combined with other sorts of genres like science fiction. In Belgium, there was Malpertuis (1943) by fantastique writer Jean Ray, a story about an ancient house where a warlock has trapped old greek gods. From America, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle came out in 1962 while later that same decade, Philip K. Dick’s novel Ubik was released. Ubik is an excellent weird futuristic scifi tale about a technician for an organization which enforces privacy by blocking telepaths from reading its clients’ minds.

Since 2000, along with the resurgence of interest in weird fiction and the New Weird movement, there’s been a strong assortment of diverse publications. Several authors are now regularly publishing weird novels such as China Miéville whose landmark novel, Perdido Street Station, is a epic tome that tells the story of Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, a scientist living in the fictional city of New Crobuzon. Miéville has since released a list of novels that fit the weird fiction label. Likewise, Michael Cisco has written several novel length works such as The Divinity Student and The Narrator, while Caitlín R. Kiernan has released several weird novels such as The Red Tree and The Drowning Girl. More recently, Jeff VanderMeer had a 2014 trilogy of weird-fiction-cum-scifi novels called The Southern Reach Trilogy. Further back in his career, VanderMeer has a few other novels like Shriek and Finch. One cannot exclude Ramsey Campbell either who has written a prolific number of novels over the past half century including The Face that Must Die and The Last Revelation of Gla’aki.

The NarratorWhile the short story is a far more frequent occurrence in weird fiction, the novel is by no means absent. Certainly it remains more of a challenge to write weird fiction in the longer format and often times, authors rely on other things like fantasy worlds or complex characters in order to create more of the backstory necessary for a novel. Despite the minority of weird novels, there has been no lack of excellent works that can keep novel fans satisfied. More are being released each year thanks to authors like China Miéville, Michael Cisco, and Caitlín R. Kiernan. I’ve touched on only a few of the great novels that exist in this article. There are still many others out there and thus, I’d like to end this article with a question for you, dear readers: What is your favorite weird fiction novel?

15 replies to “The Weird Novel

  1. Some of my favorite weird works fall between short story and novel, into the novella realm: 

    The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine” by Peter Straub

    The Metamorphosis” by Kafka

    The Beak Doctor” by Basso

    Don’t Look Now” by Daphne Du Maurier

    And some of Lucius Shepard’s “Dragon Griaule” pieces.

    A good chunk of the material Subterranean puts out are weird tales of about novella-length. The next of those titles I’m looking forward to trying out is “The End of the Sentence” by Kat Howard and Maria Dahvana Headley.

  2. Given that my favorite form for the weird story is the novella or short novel and the long story, I would give 2 titles for favorite novel: Hawksmoor by Peter Akroyd and the Sacred Fount by Henry James (which is about psychic vampirism, but perhaps not!)

  3. I have to add one more novel(I can never just choose one): The Course of the Heart by M.John Harrison.

  4. Excellent article. Sends me to my book list to add new titles/authors. I’d like to add Lanark by A.Gray and Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. Do they stand up to the Weird Tale criteria test? I’m not sure, but they feel like Weird Fiction to me.

  5. The Library on Mount Char” is one of the coolest (first) Weird Novels I’ve read since discovering the genre. Author is Scott Hawkins.

    The Tel Aviv Dossier” is a kind of rare-ish but nonetheless awesome and unique (and most unsettling) short Weird Novel by two Israeli authors: Lavie Tidhar and Nir Yaniv.

    I highly recommend both! The first might be a good gateway novel into the weird?