Escapism or Endless Joy? Four Fascinating Narrative Universes

While authors are often valued (particularly in the context of so-called high literature) according to their ability to write books that differ from each other, there is something incredibly seductive about novelists who don’t bother. Novelists who manage to create worlds to which they return in each new work, worlds which are complex and fascinating. Worlds that allow readers to escape from their daily lives, to see their lives in a new way, or simply to have a good time. Here are four suggestions. All writers are prolific, there’s much out there waiting to be read, and perhaps you’ll decide that you’ve had enough after the first book. If you do happen to love one of them, however, prepare for a life-changing addiction.

1. Harold Robbins

The writer serious literary critics and scholars are not supposed to like. Even so, I’ve discovered his books in several academic bookcases. The reason is simple: his writing is seductive and a lot of fun. All his novels feature funny, rebellious main characters, gorgeous women, a hint of criminality and danger, a lovely setting (think the beaches of California) and a lot of sex. Sure, this is junk food in book form, but it’s the ultimate holiday read. Who doesn’t love sympathetic men who manage to make their dreams come true and encounter various women on their way who are eager to undress in their presence? Of course there are questions to be asked about sexism and realism but no one ever said that junk food was good for you. A small portion now and then, however, spices up your life.

2. Herman Brusselmans

This Flemish writer (who unfortunately hasn’t been translated but I wanted to mention him anyway) paints a rather bleak picture of Belgium. Sure there are women and there’s sex, and lots of it, but there’s violence and depression too. Brusselmans is known for shock and horror, often combined with large quantities of vomit and absurdity. He’s a brilliant satirist, however, and lovers of cynical writers such as Celine will love him. A small taster of his work can be found in the trailer of the film adaption of Ex Drummer. Not safe for work, I repeat: Not Safe For Work. And no subtitles. Sorry!

(there are rumours about a full version with English subtitles somewhere on Youtube but I wouldn’t know about that, obviously)

3. J.G. Ballard

A reviewer on Goodreads once complained that Ballard appears to have written the same book over and over again. Maybe he does. Most of his books feature a hero protagonist who fights against the technology and power abuse of a rather dystopian version of contemporary society. But somehow the detective elements make his work intriguing and difficult to put down. Whether he is writing about shopping malls or a secret society involving sex in beaten up cars, he always manages to create that feeling where you just want to finish the book, no matter what. Start with Crash, maybe move on to Super-Cannes or Cocaine Nights, and once you’ve read them all, give his early work a try.

4. Laurell K. Hamilton

We’re talking hardcore dark fantasy here. Hamilton writes about elves but not as we know them. Her elves are manipulative, violent, and constantly plotting revenge against their kin. They also come in various pretty forms and Hamilton never gets tired of describing the elaborate ways in which they have intercourse with each other. She’s also incredibly imaginative and vividly describes the monsters her elves fight against. All in all she manages to create a world which is realistic (as most of her work is set in Los Angeles) and nightmarish at the same time. Once you’ve made your way through her Merry Gentry cycle, there’s another one on Anita Blake, a vampire hunter with a love for sadomasochism. Enjoy.

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