Top Five Saturday: Magical Realism

The Top 5 series is back! Top Five Saturday is a meme hosted by Devouring Books to discover and share books that all have a common theme. Previously on the blog I have focused on witches, werewolves, thrillers, faeries, fairy tale re-tellings, high fantasy and many more. I am going to try and bring this series back for every Saturday.



  • 28th March – Murder Mystery

I do adore magical realist novels, even if they are difficult to define and nebulous and overlap with all sorts of other genres. Let’s begin by offering a definition – mine at least, nothing official or formal!

  • So, realism first: these books need to be set in a realistic location on Earth, ideally a real world location, and by “realistic” I mean both in terms of physics and psychologically and socially, and generally contemporary. So, alternate Earths? Out. High Fantasy? Out.
  • As for the “magical” part of the definition, I do like the German interpretation, although it is more associated with visual art than literature: work the reveals the magical, the fantastic, the unheimlich in the real world, that heightens the real to something other. The magic, therefore, unsettles the reader and disrupts our perception of life, whereas in fantasy – even Low or Urban fantasy – the magic is generally systematised and orderly.

The List

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami

Almost anything by Murakami fits this brief! And I fully accept that I do not feel that I fully grasp this novel: ghosts or perhaps memories, people who may or may not be your mother or sister, dreams that may be more than dreams, Johnny Walker, talking cats… it’s bizarre and mesmerising and beautiful and powerful. And sometimes you don’t need more than that!

“The parallel odysseys unravel, cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a ghost-like pimp deploys a Hegel-spouting girl of the night; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since World War II. There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle – one of many which combine to create an elegant and dreamlike masterpiece.”

Kraken, China Mieville

Mieville seems to have written in every conceivable genre and I adore him. The Kraken is one of my favourites. Is it Magical Realism? The London described is realistic certainly and twisted, as squid-worshipping cults and haruspices emerge. Just look at the following moment of

“Fitch drew the cutter again along the split. A spray of concrete dust and blood mist dirtied him. He put the angle grinder down, dripping. Put a crowbar in the red-wet crack and levered harder than it looked like he could. The paving stone parted.

Guts oozed from the hole. Intestinal coils, purple and bloodied, boiled up wetly in a meat mass.”

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness

Oh my goodness! This is one of the most heart-wrenching books ever!

I love it!

The realistic portrayal of Conor O’Malley’s mum’s fight with cancer and his harassment by bullies is painfully vivid. And the monster who comes walking to help – not to help the mum but to help Conor – is something mythic and wonderful and dark: a walking monstrous yew tree.

Quichotte, Salman Rushdie

As with Murakami, almost anything by Rushdie fits the definition: Midnight’s Children is usually cited as a typical example. And Quichotte is an example of almost every genre in the field: picaresque , pastiche, road trip, horror, romance and Romance and saga…

The birthing of Sancho Panza from Quichotte’s imagination into physical reality, the television news reporter to talks to Quichotte through the television screen, the transformation of people into mastodons… there is a lot of the unheimlich throughout and the novel explores those real contemporary issues of identity and belonging in Trump’s America.

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

Oh it’s so long ago since I read this! I remember loving it – loving it enough to be excited by the release of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

“This is the story of Rahel and Estha, twins growing up among the banana vats and peppercorns of their blind grandmother’s factory, and amid scenes of political turbulence in Kerala. Armed only with the innocence of youth, they fashion a childhood in the shade of the wreck that is their family: their lonely, lovely mother, their beloved Uncle Chacko (pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher) and their sworn enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun, incumbent grand-aunt).

“Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize-winning novel was the literary sensation of the 1990s: a story anchored to anguish but fuelled by wit and magic.”

The Tags

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