There’s nothing more satisfying than a truly mind-bending novel, the kind that makes you feel the need to go and lie down with a cold flannel on your head as you recover from the effort of getting your head around the unfolding events. No-one likes to be completely mystified; we prefer, I think, to feel like we’re on the verge of “getting it” before the author surprises us, and there’s a very fine line between complexity for complexity’s sake and the genuinely clever writing that drip feeds you just the right amount of information to keep the mental cogs whirring without leaving the reader floundering in a sea of confusion. The novels listed here fall on the right side of that line, so if you fancy a bit of an intellectual workout you could do a lot worse than today’s top five.
- “The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton – I’m not going to lie: when I read various reviews of this novel after finishing it I came to the conclusion there was a whole subtext that I’d completely missed. Yet even on the – apparently superficial – level on which I’d read it, it proved to be a pretty intellectual endeavour. I don’t think I’ve ever come across another book that managed to juggle so many different characters’ plot threads, and I couldn’t help thinking that if keeping up as a reader was challenging then what on earth must it have been like to write!
- “The Ecliptic” by Benjamin Wood – by the time I got to the end of this novel I was in a state of stunned silence. It was one of those moments when you can only sit there thinking, “what? how? WHAT??” repeatedly, until you’re forced to admit that the author has been toying with you the whole time. Slightly galling at the time perhaps, but with hindsight a very impressive feat.
- “Never let me go” by Kazuo Ishiguro – what makes this novel so clever is the way in which it skirts incredibly close to normality but all the while instils a sense that something is definitely not right. If you manage to guess where the story is headed then you’re a smarter cookie than me – in a million years I wouldn’t have seen the conclusion coming.
- “The Night Watch” by Sergei Lukyanenko – yes, there are plenty of wizards, werewolves and vampires, but this Russian masterpiece is less about the bloodsucking and more about the battle for control between the forces of the righteous Night Watch and the malevolent Day Watch. But hang on – are things really as black and white as all that? Apparently not; just when you think you’ve got your head around the double crossing, the triple crossing begins, and by the end you will have no idea who the bad guys really are.
- “Stone’s Fall” by Iain Pears – this author is one of the ultimate scramblers of grey matter and I love him for it! If you want a devilishly clever plot that wrong-foots you at every turn and bombards you with twist after revelation after rug-from-under-feet moment, then try this; just make sure you’ve got your brain in gear first. There’s a real skill in executing a story such as this without making it feel contrived, and despite the shocks it’s completely believable all the way to the end.
Hope you enjoyed today’s suggestions, as ever I’d love to hear what your choices would be!