Magical realism

I love this genre of writing, which so often gets categorised as fantasy, but which in my opinion is completely different. Such stories allow you to escape into a world that in essence is still the world you know, but which has little sparks of difference that are woven in here and there. If it’s done well enough, these aspects will simply become part of the real world and it will take a while for the reader to even realise they are there – the real and the fantastical blend into the same stream of thought. These elements are not explained or highlighted as being different – they are just there.

Magical realism is the kind of genre that encompasses all of those weird things that happen in daily life, which we either ignore because they are outside the norm, or that we make small comment on before disregarding as “coincidence” or “a trick of the light.” It is that, but also so much more. The term was first coined in the art world, to describe paintings that depicted alternate realities, but it has since been applied to other creative art forms, including writing and film. Think Spirited Away, Pans Labyrinth, even Mary Poppins. Suddenly everyone is floating on the ceiling or jumping into a chalk picture, but somehow it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary.

“Ever since his young wife had given birth to a cat as an unexpected consequence of his experiments in sexual alchemy, President Veracruz had thought of himself not only as an adept but also as an intellectual.”

Louis de Bernieres, Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord

Magical realism is no doubt an acquired taste, but it is a genre I think people should try if they haven’t already. I like this kind of novel because they don’t just break the rules – they have no rules to begin with. I like them because anything can (and does) happen.


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