A list of classy WTF books

Do you know those books which you can supposedly brag about reading? You know, like “Pride and Prejudice”, “The Satanic Verses” or “The Iliad”? Of course you do. You run into them a lot – and there’s others which are less known, but just as impressive to mention.

Except some of them are weird. Or very weird. Or, well, fucked up – despite being classics, critically acclaimed and other such. And despite their authors not thinking they were that twisted. Here’s a few:

1. The Tale of Genji.

This wonderful, beautiful novel was written sometime in the 11th century and it’s the world’s first novel. Or the first modern novel. Or the first psychological novel. All of those have been said at one point – it’s considered a masterpiece and the only real reason you’ve probably never heard of it is that it’s Japanese. Our Western world grew up without it.

It’s a splendid book, full of poetry and romance. Genji is a Japanese prince, so beautiful women fall in love with him at first sight, so handsome he makes men wish he were a woman so he could be their wife. And he has these wonderful affairs, yes?…

Well. For a few chapters. Then he falls in love with one of his father’s concubines, a woman who looks exactly like his dead mother. He can’t have her for his own because he can’t exactly snatch her away from the emperor, but he has an affair with her anyway. And, later on, he pretty much kidnaps a ten year-old from her family because she looks precisely like his father’s concubine (and his mother) – and raises the little girl to be the perfect wife.

If that doesn’t set your teeth on edge, then you should also know that pretty much everybody a character is likely to sleep with in this novel will be a blood relation. Because interbreeding yay!

2. House of Sleeping Beauties

Yasunari Kawabata won a Nobel Prize for literature. If that doesn’t make him a classy author, I don’t know what will.

Most of his novels have a haunting beauty, a delightful meditative atmosphere, a contemplative mood that will stick with you for quite some time. House of Sleeping Beauties is no exception.

…but then there’s the fact that the sleeping beauties are drugged prostitutes. The protagonist finds out about this brothel where old, impotent men go to spend the night with girls who’ve been fed sleeping pills so they wouldn’t wake up no matter what happened. And he spends quite some time thinking he’s still potent – what if he were to actually sleep with one of the girls?

The Japanese. They have way too many examples of creepy as hell fiction.

3. The Last Temptation (of Christ)

If you’ve only heard of one modern Greek author, Nikos Kazantzakis is probably it. He’s one of those VIPs of world literature whose novels got translated in all sorts of languages and then transformed into movies.

The Last Temptation of Christ is about a Jesus who is struggling with the destiny God threw on his shoulders. He spent his life as a carpenter making crosses for would-be Messiahs to be crucified on and he really, really doesn’t want to be the Chosen anything. Eventually, though, he ends up in charge of a bunch of misfits (the apostles), with Judas, who wants a real revolution and a liberation from Romans at his side.

It’s actually all weird, as if Kazantzakis was dreaming this in a drug-induced stupor, but the oddest part is where Jesus has this strong vivid dream/temptation where his “guardian angel” tells him he did well and he’s released from the cross. He goes away free, marries Mary Magdalen, and she dies. So then he goes off and marries both Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus and has lots of children with them.

The entire novel reads like an odd fever dream. I’m certain that’s not exactly the impression Kazantzakis would have liked to leave behind.

4. Women in Love

D.H. Lawrence. You’ve probably heard of him because of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. This is more of the same scandalous sex stuff. Except less explicit.

Ursula and Gudrun are sisters. Ursula is a teacher, Gudrun is some sort of artist. They become involved with Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich and some very psychological stuff ensues, complete with philosophical discussions of politics and society. Which is probably what makes this book one of those ‘classics’ that you study in university (I know I did).

But aside from the crazy names which add their own special ‘huh?’ to the book, the title too is an oddity. It’s a misnomer, but I’m not sure it’s an intentional one. Considering D.H. Lawrence’s other books, I think the author doesn’t know what love is if it strips down to its underwear and paints the letters ‘L’,’O’,’V’ and ‘E’ on its naked body. If the book was called ‘Women in Relationships They’re Very Ambiguous About’, it would’ve been more to the point (but admittedly less catchy).

The book provides examples of what I’ve come to describe as ‘D.H. Lawrence sex’. It involves the couple being attracted, going to bed – and then suddenly one of them (usually the woman) has this revelation that she’s actually repulsed by the guy she’s sleeping with. It’s sort of the ‘oh my god, who and what did I do last night?!’, but experienced a lot faster than simply the morning after. Or the hour after. Or the minute after. Or just after – it’s during.

Between some instincts for violence and more dislike than love in the major couples, the only real relationship based on actual love and attraction in the book is between Gerald and Rupert. There’s a moment when the sexual attraction between them is palpable and much, much more real than what either of the two experience with the women. I’m not sure it’s what Lawrence intended, but the psychological ride you take in Women in Love is going to keep you going, ‘what the fuck?’ over and over.

5. Jude the Obscure

My literature professor called Thomas Hardy mid-evil (pun on medieval, of course), which was very witty and informative of her.

If you’ve read a single Thomas Hardy novel, it was probably Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which is pretty WTF itself. But Jude the Obscure beats it hands-down on the WTF scale. It’s sort of a small village boy-meets-girl novel, in which Jude is a young man aspiring to go to university and Sue is his beautiful, perfect cousin. It’s kind of a worrisome plot in the first place, but things go a lot worse when you get the hand of destiny practically making itself felt at every step of the book, and when you have a creepy as hell kid popping up in the novel for no other reason than to make you think Frankenstein was a perfectly decent and socially acceptable sort of fellow.

Combine the creepy magical-superstitious-fated part of the book with the supposed realism and by the end you’ll be wondering what the hell you’ve read.

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